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Diabetes mellitus is the sixth leading cause of death in Australia, and contributes to significant illness and disability. In 1996 diabetes mellitus was the seventh leading cause of burden of disease in Australia, accounting for 3% of the total burden (AIHW 2000a). People with diabetes have reduced life expectancy and are more likely than people without diabetes to experience major health complications involving the eyes, kidneys, nerves and arteries (McCarthy et al. 1996). Population groups at particular risk of diabetes are older people, Indigenous people and some sections of the overseas-born population.
Types of diabetes
There are three major types of diabetes mellitus. Type 1 diabetes is marked by extremely low levels of insulin. Type 2 diabetes is marked by reduced levels of insulin, or the inability of the body to use insulin properly. Gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy in about 4-6% of females not previously diagnosed with diabetes, is not usually long-term. However, for women diagnosed with gestational diabetes there is an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life (AIHW 2000a).
National Diabetes Register
In 1999, the National Diabetes Register was established at the AIHW, as part of the National Diabetes Strategy. The register collects information about people who have been diagnosed with insulin-treated diabetes since January 1999. The major objective of the register is to assist researchers in epidemiological studies of the causes, complications and prevention of diabetes (AIHW 2001c).
The Register has revealed that the incidence (the number of new cases in the population previously without the disease) of diabetes among 0-14 year olds is much higher than previously found in Australia. In Australia in 2000, the incidence among 0-14 year olds was 19.2 per 100,000 males and 18.6 per 100,000 females (AIHW 2001c).
Current and long-term diabetes
Preliminary findings from the 2001 NHS indicate that 2.9% of Australians (554,200) reported that they currently had long-term diabetes (that is, it had lasted or was expected to last for six months or more) (table 9.21).
More females reported diabetes than males (282,700 females, 271,500 males). In terms of type of diabetes, over three-quarters of people reporting long-term current diabetes identified Type 2 diabetes (table 9.19).
Results from the 2001 NHS indicate that an estimated 100,820 women had been told they had gestational diabetes at some time in their lives.
In 2000, diabetes mellitus was the underlying cause of death in 3,006 deaths, 2.3% of all deaths registered. Of these, 1,594 deaths were males and 1,412 females. The age-standardised death rate due to diabetes was 13 per 100,000 persons (17 for males and 11 for females per 100,000 persons).