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Diabetes Set to Wipe Out Whole Ethnic Populations by End of Century

Posted: Wednesday, November 22, 2006

With one in two having diabetes, it could wipe out Maori and Polynesian Islanders by the end of the century, according to an international expert in the disease.

Professor Martin Silink, head of the Brussels-based International Diabetes Foundation, told a gathering of experts in Melbourne that indigenous people had a greater genetic risk of contracting type 2 diabetes, which was often undiagnosed.

Western lifestyles and diets had replaced traditional habits, exacerbating the problem. "They also have the genes that make the diabetes more damaging, so they are more prone to develop the serious complications of diabetes," Prof Silink said.

"There is a death due to diabetes every 10 seconds, and an amputation due to diabetes every 30 seconds. We are dealing with the biggest epidemic in world history."

Conference host Professor Paul Zimmet said diabetes was unknown in the Pacific before World War 2, but now the region had some of the highest rates in the world and where the existence of indigenous communities were at risk.

Extinction was a "very real reality" and New Zealand's Maori and Pacific Island populations were just as much at risk as Australia's Aborigines and native Indians in the United States and Canada, he said.

About 230 million people -- or about six per cent of adults worldwide -- have type 2 diabetes, but among indigenous people up to one in two adults have the disease.

Professor Chris Cunningham, of Massey University's Research Centre for Maori Health, agreed with Prof Zimmet's prediction, describing diabetes among Maori as at "epidemic proportions".

He agreed Maori and Pacific Islanders were more susceptible to diabetes as they were not physiologically accustomed to the Western lifestyle and diet.

"The reality is, a Big Mac hurts Maori more than it hurts caucasians," he stated..

Health Ministry figures show type 2 diabetes is thought to account for 20 per cent of all deaths among Maori, compared with 4 per cent for non-Polynesian people in New Zealand.

Maori males are 6.5 times more likely and Maori females 10 times more likely to die from diabetes than non-Polynesians, while Pacific peoples are five times more likely to die from diabetes than non-Polynesians.

Last year, an estimated 125,000 New Zealanders were diagnosed with diabetes, 22 per cent of those Maori.

Source: Diabetes In Control

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