Düsseldorf The AOK survey shows that every twelfth Rhinelander is diabetic. In rural areas, the diabetes rate is particularly high. 30 per cent of the elderly are sufferers.
Diabetes is a widespread disease and has the Rhineland firmly in its grip: 8.2 per cent of the inhabitants in the area covered by the Nordrhein Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians suffer from type 2 diabetes, according to the first health survey of the AOK Rheinland/Hamburg, which is available to our editorial team. “Every twelfth inhabitant in the Rhineland has type 2 diabetes. That’s too many”, says Günter Wältermann, head of AOK Rheinland/Hamburg, "the disease is often preventable.”
In NRW, the incidence of diabetes is 8.4 per cent, compared with the nationwide 8.6 per cent. Regional differences are large: the best figures are for Münster with a frequency of diabetics of 5.9 per cent and for Bonn (6.1 per cent); the worst are in Bottrop (11.1 per cent) and Oberhausen (9.8 per cent).
Diabetes mellitus, colloquially just diabetes, is a metabolic disorder in which the blood sugar level is elevated. In type 1, the pancreas does not produce insulin at all; in type 2 diabetes, insulin has only a reduced effect. Patients have to take insulin tablets or inject it. In type 2 diabetes, age and an unhealthy lifestyle play an important role in addition to genetic predisposition. According to the AOK report, more than half of the 793,000 people with type 2 diabetes in North Rhine-Westphalia are over 70 years old. In other words, about 30 per cent of the 80- to 90-year-olds in the Rhineland are diabetics.
This partly explains the regional differences: Because the proportion of elderly people in rural areas is higher than in large cities, the diabetes rate is higher in rural areas. The situation is better in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Krefeld than in the Lower Rhine or the Bergisches Land.
Risk factors for diabetes type 2 are being overweight, unhealthy nutrition and lack of exercise. Because these risk factors are more frequently found in people with low social status, the report continues, the proportion of diabetes patients is also higher in regions with high long-term unemployment and poverty rates. This explains for instance, why the Ruhrgebiet tends to contain more diabetics than the richer cities of Münster, Bonn or Duesseldorf.
AOK boss Wältermann claims that "we need a strategy for society as a whole, an overall package with a clear focus on prevention: lots of exercise and healthy nutrition in daycare centres and schools as well as clearly visible and comprehensible nutritional information on food packaging.” The head of the AOK suggests improving and expanding the existing disease management programmes to support patients. "The continuous and structured monitoring of diabetes patients helps them to deal with their disease and to live with it. Secondary diseases can be avoided".
Potential secondary diseases of type 2 diabetes range from kidney damage to dialysis, eye damage or blindness and cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.
This is not only threatening for those affected, it is also expensive. The direct costs for diabetes alone amounted to 7.4 billion euros per year in Germany. Experts estimate that the total diabetes-related costs account for ten per cent of health insurance expenditure.
(Original text: Antje Höning, translation John Chandler)