One of Scotland’s leading experts on diabetes has called for a national prevention strategy to tackle the disease ahead of an international congress starting in Edinburgh today.
Dr Calum Sutherland, from the University of Dundee, was instrumental in bringing the biennial World Congress On Prevention Of Diabetes And Its Complications to the UK for the first time in its 20-year history.
Sutherland said the healthcare profession in Scotland was much better at dealing with the condition than preventing it.
The scientist, whose speciality is understanding the mechanisms that lead to diabetes, said it was “simplistic” to label the problem as solely due to obesity but added that the biggest risk factor for type 2 diabetes was body mass, accounting for almost 90 per cent of cases.
At present almost 300,000 Scots – about 5.4 per cent of the population – have some form of the illness.
Sutherland said he made the case for the conference coming to Scotland along with professional partners and a local committee and the bid was accepted. “This particular meeting has been around five years in the coming when we were first asked if we were interested in hosting it, as it’s never been to the UK before, but it’s been around for 20 years and it’s held every two years.
“It has been to every continent but it has never been to the UK. It has in the past been poorly attended by scientists and clinicians from the UK and I don’t know why that is.
“We always say we’re interested in the prevention of diabetes but we are much better at dealing with the condition than preventing it.”
Sutherland said that people with type 1 diabetes hated the stigma attached to the illness, the perception being that it was linked to obesity.
He added: “I know the patients, especially those with type 1 diabetes, hate that and we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people who have type 1 which is not obesity linked.
“There is also a sizeable amount of type 2 that isn’t actually obesity related as well, so that perception can be a bit misleading and upset a few people with diabetes.
“Diabetes UK as a charity has been fighting hard to change that stigma and let people know that hundreds of thousands of people have diabetes and it’s not related to obesity.
“Secondly, there are plenty of reasons why people get diabetes and it’s not just down to lifestyle. There are genetic and hormonal reasons why people struggle to lose weight or put on weight – it’s not as simple as saying they should really take control.”
The conference runs from today until Wednesday at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.
The Scottish Government said it has committed to funding the implementation of the Prevention Framework with the first adopters beginning the redesign and delivery of service later this year.
Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said Scotland had a “great track record” on helping people with diabetes live longer, healthier lives.
He added: “Through early detection of people at risk and with appropriate early intervention, psychological support and tools to make lifestyle changes, we are supporting individuals to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and avoid further health complications.”