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Govt injects new life into diabetes battle

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One of the world’s leading authorities on diabetes and obesity has been appointed to advise the Abbott Government on the development of a National Diabetes Strategy.

Founder and Director of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Professor Paul Zimmet, together with former Howard Government Minister Judi Moylan, will Chair an expert Advisory Group to assist the Government in the development of policies to help tackle one of the nation’s most pressing health issues.

 Health Minister Peter Dutton said the Strategy, which was a Coalition election commitment, would look at more targeted use of existing funding for diabetes prevention and management.

Announcement of the Strategy adds to doubts about the future of the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA), at least in its current form, as the Government looks to hold health spending down and redirect funds to new priorities.

Mr Dutton said the Government considered it crucial to tackle diabetes.

“More than four per cent of the population have a diagnosed diabetes condition, and a further one per cent have diabetes and don’t know it,” Mr Dutton said. “This is why the Government is taking steps to develop a national strategy.”

The Health Minister said diabetes interacts with and influences other chronic diseases, and “many of these diseases and associated complications can be prevented by targeting shared risk factors such as obesity”.

“It is important that doctors and other health professionals are supported by a system that enables them to provide patients with best practice treatment and management of diseases like diabetes.”

Consultancy Access Economics in a 2008 report estimated that obesity and related health issues cost the country $58 billion a year.

The Strategy’s announcement comes three years after the previous Labor Government unveiled its response to a report from the National Preventative Health Taskforce, which included the creation of ANPHA.

Professor Zimmet, who was a member of the Taskforce, was critical of the Labor Government’s approach.

In an article published by The Conversation (http://theconversation.com/simple-answers-to-the-obesity-epidemic-block-solutions-7317), Professor Zimmet said obesity and diabetes needed to be tackled as a single issue, and warned that together they were shaping as “the biggest chronic disease epidemic in human history”.

But he said that so far governments, and the broader public, had failed to come to grips with the complex nature of the problem, and instead tended to reduce it to the failure of individuals to control their behaviour.

Professor Zimmet said the people and governments tended to think obesity (and associated type 2 diabetes) was the result of slothful and sedentary lifestyles.

He said this view was useful for governments, because it allowed them to devolve most of the responsibility for action to address the problem onto individuals.

But the reality was that the causes of obesity and diabetes were much more complex than this, with such research as had been done indicating that there was a significant biological component.

Professor Zimmet said research in the field was still in its early days, and needed to be significantly enhanced.

Ms Moylan, who resigned from politics at the last Federal election, was a founding member of the Parliamentary Diabetes Support Group, which was established in 2000.

Adrian Rollins

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