When we ask people what they value most, health is usually top of the list. While effective care is available for many chronic diseases, the fact remains that for the patient, the tax payer and the whole of society: prevention is better than cure. Diabetes and its complications are a serious threat to the survival and well-being of an increasing number of people. It is predicted that one in ten Europeans aged 20-79 will have developed diabetes by 2030. Once a disease of old age, diabetes is now common among adults of all ages and is beginning to affect adolescents and even children. Diabetes accounts for up to 18 % of total healthcare expenditure in Europe. The good news is that diabetes is preventable. Compelling evidence shows that the onset of diabetes can be prevented or delayed greatly in individuals at high risk (people with impaired glucose regulation). Clinical research has shown a reduction in risk of developing diabetes of over 50 % following relatively modest changes in lifestyle that include adopting a healthy diet, increasing physical activity, and maintaining a healthy body weight. These results have since been reproduced in real-world prevention programmes. Even a delay of a few years in the progression to diabetes is expected to reduce diabetes-related complications, such as heart, kidney and eye disease and, consequently, to reduce the cost to society. A comprehensive approach to diabetes prevention should combine population based primary prevention with programmes targeted at those who are at high risk. This approach should take account of the local circumstances and diversity within modern society (e.g. social inequalities). The challenge goes beyond the healthcare system. We need to encourage collaboration across many different sectors: education providers, non-governmental organisations, the food industry, the media, urban planners and politicians all have a very important role to play. Small changes in lifestyle will bring big changes in health. Through joint efforts, more people will be reached. The time to act is now.
Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart-New York.