A new diabetes report has revealed the spiralling impact of diabetes and warned that unless urgent action is taken the condition, and its complications, threatens to overwhelm the Australian health system.

The report reveals huge increases, in the last two decades the cost of direct healthcare (up 289%), hospital costs (up 308%) and medicines (up 282%) have all exploded, while hospitalisations have increased by 149% since 2004.

Looking ahead, Diabetes Australia warns that the number of people living with diabetes could climb to more than 3.1 million by 2050 resulting in 2.5 million hospitalisations per year and costing Australia around $45 billion per annum.

Diabetes Australia released the report Change the Future: Reducing the impact of the diabetes epidemic as a call-to-arms to combat the diabetes epidemic on World Diabetes Day (14 November).

Diabetes Australia Group CEO Justine Cain said the report looked at the best available evidence to assess the significant burden of diabetes and identified a number of areas of concern.

“Diabetes Australia is particularly concerned about the number of people currently living with diabetes, the increase in younger Australians being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the impact of diabetes on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, rising numbers of mothers being diagnosed with gestational diabetes and the emergence of a number of recently identified complications,” Ms Cain said.

“More than a million Australians have been diagnosed in the past decade, along with 500,000 people currently living with silent, undiagnosed diabetes, and all of these people are at risk of developing diabetes-related complications in the future.

“Over the past decade we have also seen a 37% increase in the number of younger Australians (aged <39 or under) being diagnosed with diabetes. There are more than 42,000 people in this cohort living with type 2 diabetes and for many of these people the condition is more severe with a greater risk of complications.”

“Australia’s rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diabetes are some of the highest in the world. In particular, Central Australia has the highest rates in the world.

“Over the past decade we’ve also seen staggering growth in the number of mothers being diagnosed with gestational diabetes and we anticipate that up to half-a-million mothers who have had GDM will develop type 2 diabetes.

“Of concern, we are also seeing a range of recently identified, serious diabetes-related complications that are resulting in hospitalisations.

“While diabetes has long been established as a leading cause of vision loss, limb amputation, heart disease, kidney failure and dementia, we are now seeing increasing numbers of people being hospitalised with diabetes-related cellulitis, mental health challenges and iron deficient anaemia.”

Ms Cain said that despite the size of the problem, Australia had the resources and expertise to meet the challenges of the epidemic.

“The diabetes epidemic is one of the most significant health challenges Australia has ever faced and it calls for unified and sustained action.

“That’s why we are asking Australia’s political leaders, the health sector, the business community and everyday Australians to join us in changing the trajectory of this epidemic to create a healthier future.”

“The Australian National Diabetes Strategy 2021 – 2030 has been endorsed by Federal and State Governments and we now need to work with Governments and focus our efforts on implementation.

“The Strategy is full of cost-effective, evidence-based policies, initiatives and reforms that can drive real change – that just need to be implemented.

“The time to act is now.”

International Diabetes Federation Vice-President and University of Sydney Professor Stephen Colagiuri AO said the report painted a gloomy picture of the Australian diabetes epidemic over the past two decades.

“The diabetes epidemic in Australia shows no sign of slowing and its health and economic impact continues to be felt by people with diabetes, their families and the broader community,” Professor Colagiuri said.

“However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Australia has an excellent foundation for limiting the impact of diabetes including universal health coverage and the world-leading National Diabetes Services Scheme as well as well trained and dedicated health professionals.”