Diabetes – The Underestimated Risk


Forsa Survey in the Year of Science – Research for Our Health

Diabetes is a disease of civilization: Most cases could be avoided by leading a healthier lifestyle. However, about one-third of the German population is unaware of the risk factors or of possible secondary diseases associated with diabetes. This was the result of a survey of the Forsa Public Opinion Research Institute on behalf of the Year of Science – Research for Our Health for World Diabetes Day on November 14, 2011.

Glucose metabolism – a vital mechanism
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which blood glucose levels are constantly elevated. According to information of the United Nations more than 250 million people throughout the world suffer from the disease; alone in Germany more than seven million people are affected. It is feared that the incidence of illness and the resulting number of deaths will rise rapidly by 2030 – for the United Nations this was sufficient reason to declare diabetes as the first noninfectious disease to be a global threat to mankind.

The Forsa survey showed that more than half of Germans (57 percent) do not know that there are two different types of diabetes. Type 1 is an inherited autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system is directed against one’s own body. In type 2 the elevated blood glucose levels have other causes: “First, the cells no longer respond adequately to the insulin hormone and can therefore no longer absorb glucose properly. In patients with advanced type 2 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas secrete less and less insulin,” explained Professor Martin Hrabĕ de Angelis, director of the Institute of Experimental Genetics at Helmholtz Zentrum München and spokesperson for the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD).

Fatigue, increased thirst and increased frequency of infections can be the first signs of diabetes – after all, 58 percent of all Germans know at least one of the possible symptoms. Health researchers now primarily seek to answer the question why some people develop diabetes and why others do not. One thing is clear: Even in type 2 diabetes inheritance plays a role – an aspect that only 17 percent of those surveyed were aware of. However, genetic predisposition alone is usually not the cause of this clinical picture. Being overweight, lack of exercise and poor diet are among the most important risk factors.

Too little knowledge about the risks and consequences
In other words, a healthy lifestyle and prevention reduce the risk for the disease immensely. Even more alarming is the fact that about one-third of all Germans cannot name one single risk factor. Only two percent know that stress can increase the risk for diabetes – and this, despite the fact that diabetics have a higher incidence of serious diseases with grave consequences than healthy individuals.
Nevertheless, nearly one-third of the respondents knew that diabetes can lead to eye diseases and even to blindness in the worst cases. Conversely, another one-third were unaware of this risk. In the under-thirty age group more than half of those surveyed were unable to name any secondary diseases caused by diabetes. Twenty-two percent of the respondents were able to name the diabetic foot syndrome, which occurs with nerve damage in the foot and circulation problems in the legs. Sixteen percent mentioned that diabetes contributes to cardiovascular disease. Only slightly less than one in ten specifically mentioned heart attack and stroke as possible consequences of diabetes.

People’s lack of knowledge about diabetes is still quite great. “An important task of diabetes research is therefore to inform and educate the general public about the risks associated with the disease,” said Professor Hrabĕ de Angelis.

The Years of Science are an initiative of the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) in cooperation with Science in Dialogue (WiD). Since 2000 they have served as platform for exchanges between scientists and the general public on selected themes. In the Year of Science 2011 – Research for Our Health, the focus is on the human being – and in connection with this, individualized medicine for prevention, diagnosis and therapy in the future.

Survey on diabetes