At my most recent GP visit to discuss some blood test results my doctor raised the issue that I was 0.1 away from being considered in the pre-diabetic category. This is based on fasting indicator scores. 0-6mmol/l being Normal 6.1-6.9 being pre-diabetic and 7.0 and above diabetic. This relates to Type 2 diabetes which accounts for around 85% of the cases of diabetes in Australia. It’s estimated that around 5% of the population has this condition.

This was a bit of a wake-up call for me. Me! A pre-diabetic? WTF! Isn’t that for obese people who don’t exercise? Well strangely enough if you check your risk factors for diabetes on the Diabetes Australia website (www.diabetesaustralia.com.au) the biggest risk factor appears to be age and gender. If you’re ageing you can’t control that and our gender is (usually) fixed.

That prompted me to take a deeper dive into Type 2 diabetes and this is what I discovered:

  • It is caused by the body’s inability to use insulin properly i.e. turn sugar into energy;
  • Being overweight is a big risk factor particularly the fat you carry around your middle (the old middle-age spread);
  • Family history is a strong predictor;
  • Being physically inactive is a risk factor;
  • About 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. One every 5 minutes;
  • It’s estimated there are 500,000 Australians right now with diabetes who don’t know they have the disease. This is referred to as silent diabetes;
  • The annual cost to the Australian economy a whopping $14.6bn. Think of that. We’re buying 72 Joint Strike Fighters for only $17bn and that’s a one-off!

It’s not all bad news though. Like most things in healthcare it’s better to know sooner, before the progress of the disease has increased your morbidity and hastened your mortality. We know with particular reference to men’s health, that the last 11 years of our lives are often lived in poor health. Diabetes is a major player in this statistic. Bad news is there is no cure. Good news is reversing pre-diabetes is possible though through (and yes you can probably guess them by now);

  • Losing weight;
  • Exercise;
  • Healthier diet; and
  • Quitting smoking.
The health impact of diabetes can be wide-ranging and severe.

In the building and construction sector there is much good work going on in terms of health education. In Queensland Australia we have awareness about airborne lung disease (asbestos and silica), prostate awareness through the excellent work of Prostate Awareness Australia, the dangers of sun exposure through Danger Sun Overhead and mental health awareness through MATES in Construction.

It’s likely that the same degree of attention paid to diabetes across a workforce that is predominantly male with a wide age range would pay dividends. Type 2 diabetes is a slow burn and doesn’t just pop up overnight. Behaviours developed early, which can be rusted on and therefore hard to shake, can be risk factors for many things, diabetes included.

Next time you are scoffing that Four’n Twenty topped with some sugar-rich tomato sauce and guzzling back a can of Mother or Red Bull just think about me and how I’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure I don’t hit the slippery slope into pre-diabetes and beyond. Those diet and exercise decisions I made, or didn’t make all those years ago are knocking at my door right now!