Prof. Dr. Kerner: Because it has become a widespread disease in recent decades. According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people with diabetes is rising rapidly worldwide. While there were around 366 million people affected in 2011, experts expect there to be 552 million diabetics by 2030. This corresponds to an increase of 50 percent.
What do the experts' estimates say about the development of diabetes in Germany?
Prof. Dr. Kerner: According to available surveys, there are currently eight million people with diabetes in Germany. However, the real number is significantly higher, as many people do not even know that they already suffer from the metabolic disorder, as it does not initially cause any symptoms.
Why is diabetes dangerous?
Prof. Dr. Kerner: Because the secondary diseases of diabetes severely impair the life expectancy and quality of life of the people affected. The associated diseases are the constrictions of the large vessels of the heart, brain and legs, the occlusions of the small vessels of the eyes and kidneys, and the consequences of diabetic nerve damage: heart attack, stroke, amputations of the legs, blindness and kidney failure with the need for dialysis. As a result of these sequelae, patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus can be predicted to lose an average of six years of life. The available statistics are disturbing: for diabetics, the relative risk of heart attack or stroke is three to five times higher than for non-diabetics. Women with diabetes are particularly at risk of heart attack. Amputations are 20 times more common in diabetics than in non-diabetics. Even today, of all the people who depend on lifelong kidney washing, around 30 to 50 percent are diabetics.
In addition to the increase in suffering among affected patients, the healthcare system is also facing a huge explosion in costs.
How can diabetes be prevented?
Prof. Dr. Kerner: Comprehensive education is important to prevent the disease. Type 2 diabetes is a disease of affluence. The energy balance of those affected is out of kilter because they eat too much and too many calories, while at the same time taking too little exercise. More energy is taken in than the person really needs. There is some astonishing data for eastern Germany. After the Second World War, for example, only 0.6 percent of the East German population had type 2 diabetes. Today, the figure is almost ten percent. Most of those affected are overweight. They could make a big difference themselves by reducing their body weight through a balanced diet and exercise. Changing their lifestyle is of great importance. This is a task for society as a whole.
And what does effective diabetes therapy look like?
Prof. Dr. Kerner: In addition to lifestyle changes, diabetes therapy usually involves medication to control high blood pressure, high blood lipid levels and high blood sugar. The therapy goals of the individual measures are to be determined individually together with the patient in order to avoid severe secondary diseases as far as possible.