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9 February 2012 – Health First Europe attended the European Commission and Danish Presidency event “Diabesity: a World-Wide Challenge” which focused on understanding the current information available on the prevalence of diabetes and potential solutions to combat the trends for increasing prevalence.  The conference brought together the European Parliament, the Danish Presidency, and the European Commission, but also various global organisations working on diabetes prevention and treatment in conjunction with scientists and medical doctors with extensive knowledge and expertise in chronic and non-communicable diseases.  The participants agreed that diabetes is indeed a world-wide epidemic and presented various ideas and projects which can help all health stakeholders to tackle this devastating disease.

Dr. Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, Director for Health, DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission, introduced the morning session which was focused on taking a global approach to the challenges of diabetes.  Addressing the importance of acting now, MEP Christel Schaldemose (S&D, Denmark) called for the development of a global strategy in addition to national action plans for diabetes to coordinate and target evidence-based activities for the prevention and treatment of diabetes.  The European Union does not yet have a strategy to tackle diabetes though such strategies exist for other diseases (i.e. cancer). Alongside Ms. Schaldemose, the Deputy Director General at the National Board of Health in Denmark, Dorte Hansen-Thrige, focused on the many approaches used in Denmark to deal with chronic diseases and explained that Denmark is concentrated on creating systems focused on prevention and promotion rather than cure, and ensuring “a patient-oriented focus in all interventions” for chronic diseases.  The Danish Presidency is very keen to bring generic treatment for chronic diseases to the forefront of the EU agenda during its presidency.

Interesting data was also presented about the migration of populations and the links between genetics to pre-dispositions to diabetes by Professor Paul Zimmet, Director of International Research, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.  Prof. Zimmet referred to diabetes as “potentially the greatest epidemic in the history of world” and also declared that “By 2020, diabesity (diabetes and obesity) is set to bankrupt the economies of many nations unless we take urgent action.”  Susan B. Shurin, Acting Director of National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, agreed with the shocking statistics provided by Prof. Zimmet and further highlighted the importance of factors beyond health that affect the prevalence of diabetes.  She suggested that the, “problems are in the health sector, but the solutions are not” offering that prevention of diabetes needs to take account of transportation, housing, education, agriculture, urban planning and local ownership.

Understanding why diabetes prevalence is higher amongst certain populations and how to prevent diabetes occurring in all populations presents enormous research challenges world-wide.  Experts presented many of the ongoing projects and studies which aim to better understand many of the issues encompassed within diabetes challenges. In particular, Dr. Griffin Rodgers, Director, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), presented some of the studies his organisation is focused on particularly lifestyle interventions such as research on the cost-effectiveness of lifestyle interventions for adults with pre-diabetes, lifestyle interventions in overweight and obese pregnant women and environmental determinants of diabetes in the young.  Though there is much research being done in the field of diabetes, panelists were very clear that there is much more to be done in terms of research to inspire real policy solutions for combating diabetes, specifically Type 2 which is a consequence of inactivity and poor nutrition.

The significance of the diabetes burden and the need for global cooperation and strategy targeting prevention of diabetes was unequivocal.  Participants were very clear that diabetes clearly is a world-wide problem with solutions that must also target the world-wide symptoms of increased diabetes prevalence.