An estimated 32 million people in the European Union (8.1%) were living with diabetes in 2013. Although policymakers are now paying special attention to the issue and to obesity-related conditions more generally, health experts say more can be done to tackle what the EU considers as a chronic disease.
Every two minutes, an EU citizen dies of diabetes-related diseases, according to the European Diabetes Leadership Forum (EDLF), a stakeholder organisation initiated by pharma company Novo Nordisk, which aims to move diabetes up the public health agenda.
50% of all people with diabetes die of cardiovascular disease, making diabetes the fourth most common cause of death in Europe, EDLF figures show. Meanwhile, 10-20% die of kidney failure, 10% develop severe visual impairment and 50% suffer from diabetic neuropathy, it says.
However, governments are not whole-heartedly engaging in effective measures to curb obesity, according to the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), a think tank. This is despite calls from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) among others, to halt and revert obesity trends, which are driving diabetes.
In a policy document from 2013, the ECIPE says special attention should be paid to diabetes, which is considered a chronic disease linked to heart problems and strokes. Around 9.3% of the EU's total health budget is spent on diabetes.
Diabetes is caused by a lack of insulin, due to insufficient pancreatic production or high blood sugar levels. It can also develop from insulin resistance, a case where the pancreas produces insulin that is rejected by the body.
EU member states have been experimenting with measures to prevent obesity and excessive weight gain, which cause 'type 2' diabetes.
Such measures include those suggested by the OECD: food education and physical activity at school level, or food taxes targeting food products with high content of sugar or saturated fat.
“On current trends, and if no changes are made to the healthcare coverage, governments in Europe will soon be facing rapidly increasing costs related to the treatment of illnesses and health problems associated with obesity,” the ECIPE said.