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Shut Your Eyes to Diabetes and End Up Blind


Embargoed until 20 November 2001

“Shut Your Eyes to Diabetes and You Could End Up Blind”.

The message for this year’s Diabetes Awareness Week is simple. Get checked for diabetes because if diabetes is diagnosed early, the complications of diabetes can be avoided.

Diabetes Awareness Week is running from Tuesday 20 November to Monday 26 November.

“We hope that people who are at risk of diabetes will feel motivated to get checked,” said Ian Middlemiss, President of Diabetes New Zealand.

An estimated 115,000 New Zealanders have been diagnosed with diabetes. But as many as 60,000 other New Zealanders have diabetes and do not know it.

“The incidence of diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions, and too many people are going undiagnosed which is leading to the complications of diabetes,” said Ian Middlemiss, President of Diabetes New Zealand.

“Many people do not realise they have had diabetes for many years until their eye sight has already been damaged, or they are admitted to hospital with a stroke or kidney failure.

“If people sought early treatment they would lower the risk of blindness, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure or amputation later in life.

“Likewise those people who have been diagnosed with diabetes lower the risk of complications by keeping blood glucose levels stable, by eating healthy food, keeping active, maintaining a healthy weight, and taking medicine if needed,” said Mr Middlemiss.

The Ministry of Health estimates that the incidence of diabetes will increase by 31% to one in 22 European/pakeha adults, and by 50% to one in six Maori or Pacific Island adults by 2020.

“These increases are estimated with no change to risk factors. However, the population is getting older, and there are significant concerns about New Zealanders’ sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits, and the proportion of Maori and Pacific Island people in New Zealand is increasing,” said Mr Middlemiss. “All of these factors contribute to grave concerns about the health status of New Zealand in the future.”

People should visit their doctor and be tested for diabetes if they show two or more of the “at risk factors” of:
– Are of European descent and over 40 years of age.
– Are of Maori, Pacific Island or Asian descent and over 30 years of age.
– Are overweight.
– Have a family history of diabetes.
– Have given birth to large babies (9lbs/4kg or over).
– Had high blood glucose levels during pregnancy.
– Have high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Launch of the website –

Diabetes New Zealand also launched a new look, more user-friendly website for people with diabetes, their families, health professionals and people looking for more information on diabetes this week. It will be the primary diabetes information source for New Zealanders, and will include tailored information for groups such as Maori, Pacific Islanders and children.

About the complications

If not managed properly, diabetes can cause a number of complications, including:
- Heart disease and stroke – unmanaged diabetes causes a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. Blood pressure may also be increased.
- Nerve damage (neuropathy) caused by high levels of glucose in the blood. This can affect any organ in the body, including the bladder, digestive system, and reproductive system.
- Blood vessels in legs and feet can be damaged, which means cuts don't heal properly. This can lead to gangrene and amputation of toes or feet. For this reason, it is important for people with diabetes to check their feet regularly.
- Blood vessels in the eyes can be damaged (retinopathy), which leads to blindness. Diabetes is the leading avoidable cause of blindness in middle-aged New Zealanders.
- Kidney disease is caused by narrowing of the blood vessels leading to the kidneys, meaning they can't work properly and filter out waste products from the blood stream. Diabetes is a major cause of renal failure leading to dialysis or kidney transplant.
(Source: Ministry of Health)

There are three types of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes – an estimated 11,000 people in New Zealand have Type 1 diabetes. It is more common in European people than Maori or Pacific people. Most people with Type 1 diabetes develop it as children or teenagers.
Type 2 diabetes – approximately 105,000 people in New Zealand have Type 2 diabetes. Maori and Pacific people are more than twice as likely as European people to develop Type 2 diabetes. Most people with Type 2 diabetes develop it after the age of 40. People over 40 years who are overweight or inactive (especially Maori, Pacific Islanders or Asian people) are most at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes – occurs in some women while pregnant. Blood glucose levels usually return to normal once the baby is born, but women who have gestational diabetes are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. Diabetes in pregnancy remains a leading cause of congenital abnormalities, stillbirths and miscarriages.
(Source: Ministry of Health)

About Diabetes New Zealand

Diabetes New Zealand is an incorporated society established in 1962. It is a non-government, non-profit organisation that advocates for people with diabetes, raises awareness of diabetes, builds local support groups, and encourages research and improved treatment. With 12,000 members in 36 local societies, the organisation represents approximately 115,000 people currently known to have diabetes. Diabetes New Zealand’s website is at

For further information contact:

Your local Diabetes Society, or Ian Middlemiss, or Tracy Dillimore
President Network Communications
025 657 1826 025 405 595

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