7 April 2016

About 60 million people in the European Region have diabetes, and the prevalence is increasing in all age groups, already affecting 10–15% of the population in some Member States.

The rising number of cases is due mainly to more frequent overweight and obesity, eating an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and socioeconomic disadvantage.

Diabetes is not only a burden for those living with the disease but is also straining the Region's economy and health systems.

World Health Day 2016, on 7 April, will focus on the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic, largely preventable disease that can lead to cardiovascular disease, blindness, kidney failure, loss of limbs and loss of life.

It occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar, helping our bodies to obtain the level of energy they need.

There are 2 main forms of the diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes typically make none of their own insulin and therefore require insulin injections to survive. People with type 2 diabetes, the form that comprises some 90% of cases, usually produce their own insulin but not enough or are unable to use it properly. Type 2 diabetes is usually associated with being overweight, eating an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise. 

Diabetes is a serious public health concern

  • The diabetes epidemic is spreading rapidly in many countries, especially dramatically in low- and middle-income countries.
  • A large proportion of diabetes cases are preventable: simple lifestyle measures have been shown to be effective in preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes. Maintaining a normal body weight, engaging in regular physical activity and eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk.
  • Diabetes is treatable. Diabetes can be controlled and managed to prevent complications. Increasing access to diagnosis, education in self-management and affordable treatment are vital components of the response.
  • In the WHO European Region, a renewed focus on diabetes is essential to reach one of the goals of Health 2020, the European health policy framework: to reduce premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) by 1.5% annually by 2020. Improving the prevention and treatment of diabetes will also be important to achieve the target of the global Sustainable Development Goal 3 of reducing premature mortality from NCDs by one third by 2030. Many sectors of society have a role to play, including governments, employers, educators, manufacturers, civil society, the private sector, the media and individuals.