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What do we know about diabetes among Indigenous people?

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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where the body cannot properly process glucose (a type of sugar) [1]. Normally the body can convert glucose into energy with the help of a hormone called insulin. If someone has diabetes, their body's production of insulin is impaired. Without enough insulin the body cannot turn glucose into energy, and it stays in the blood. The treatment of diabetes depends on the type of diabetes that a person has - if someone has type 1 diabetes they will need insulin injections; if someone has type 2 diabetes they may be able to manage it by living a healthy lifestyle or taking some medicines. It is possible for a person to have type 2 diabetes without knowing it.

What do we know about diabetes among Indigenous people?

Diabetes is a major health problem for Indigenous people, but it is hard to know just how many Indigenous people have the disease. Diabetes was reported by 6% of Indigenous people in the 2004-2005 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS)[2]. However, it is believed that only around one-half of Indigenous people with diabetes actually know they have it, so it has been estimated that between 10% and 30% of Indigenous people may have the condition [3][4].

According to the 2004-2005 NATSIHS, diabetes was more common for Indigenous people living in remote areas (9%) than for those living in non-remote areas (5%) [2]. Diabetes affects Indigenous people at a younger age than non-Indigenous people - it affects high numbers of Indigenous people over the age of 25 years, which is earlier than for non-Indigenous people (Figure 3). Overall, diabetes is more than three times more common among Indigenous people than among other Australians.

Deaths from diabetes were seven times more common for Indigenous people than for non-Indigenous people in 2006-2010 [5].

Figure 1. Proportions (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people reporting diabetes as a long-term health condition, by age-group (years) 2004-2005

Proportions (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people reporting diabetes as a long-term health condition, by age-group (years) 2004-2005

Source: ABS, 2006 [2]

References

  1. Diabetes Australia (2011) Understanding diabetes. Retrieved 23 September 2011 from http://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/en/Understanding-Diabetes/
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006) National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Australia, 2004-05. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics
  3. De Courten M, Hodge A, Dowse G, King I, Vickery J, Zimmet P (1998) Review of the epidemiology, aetiology, pathogenesis and preventability of diabetes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. Canberra: Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services
  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2011) Key indicators of progress for chronic disease and associated determinants: data report. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  5. Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (2012) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health performance framework: 2012 report. Canberra: Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, Department of Health and Ageing
 
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