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Fighting diabetes

The Joining Forces programme has now ended

Joining Forces was an Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust supported programme in partnership with SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity. It was delivered by 12 local projects across England by local Age UKs and SSAFA branches. After 3 successful years, the programme has now ended. Many of the pages in this section will still be useful for information and advice. Alternatively, you can look at the relevant sections of the Age UK website.

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How much do you know about type 2 diabetes? According to an expert we’ve spoken to, if you’re a man the chances are you don’t know enough, which is why the UK is facing a male diabetes crisis.

Differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes

“Type 1 diabetes is unavoidable and not preventable,” clarifies Peter Baker, Men’s Health Consultant, “but type 2 diabetes is.”

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, resulting from the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. Insulin controls blood sugar levels and when there isn’t enough of it in the body, blood sugar levels go up.

Type 2 diabetes, however, is characterised by the body losing its ability to produce enough insulin, or the cells in the body not being able to react to insulin. This too can lead to high levels of blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes is often linked to being overweight.

The size (and cost) of the problem

“We face an extraordinary problem with [type 2] diabetes and men in the UK,” explains Peter. “We’re failing on prevention, early diagnosis and outcomes for complications resulting from it. It’s costing billions of pounds to treat.”

The cost to the NHS is reported more than £1.5 million an hour, or 10% of the NHS budget for England and Wales. “The tragedy of it is that many of these cases are preventable,” says Peter.

The battle ahead

“Diabetes is a problem for both sexes,” says Peter, “but cases are going up particularly sharply for men. One in 10 men now has diabetes, and men are 26% more likely to have it than women, and more likely to have undiagnosed diabetes too.”

The importance of getting checked out

Peter suggests that men are more likely to get a later diagnosis because they fail to recognise the symptoms of diabetes – such as feeling fatigued and urinating more than usual, particularly at night – and therefore don’t seek help. They’re also less likely to go and see a GP or attend health checks, despite the fact that every man between 40 and 74 is entitled to a free NHS health check every few years.

“Women are also entitled to them on an equal basis, of course,” adds Peter, “but men are less likely to turn up when invited. Those health checks are designed to detect diabetes and heart disease.”

Dangerous complications

Of the estimated £14 billion pounds a year spent on treating diabetes, the majority goes on its complications, such as foot ulcers, which men experience more than women. “We don’t fully understand why men suffer from complications more,” says Peter. “It may be that men aren’t managing their conditions as well, but that hasn’t been proven. There may be a biological reason, but that’s an area that needs more investigation.”

Diabetes in older age

“A diagnosis of diabetes can happen at any time,” says Peter. “People don’t just suddenly become diabetic. It’s a process that happens over time and [type 2] can be reversed. The obvious things that people need to do is to have a healthy diet, be physically active and keep an eye on your weight. If you do that at any age, it reduces your risk of diabetes as well as your risk of heart disease and cancer.”

What to do if you’re diagnosed with diabetes in later life

“Having a healthy diet and being physically active can be an important part of the treatment,” explains Peter. “There is evidence that you can treat your diabetes effectively by losing weight. Some people’s diabetes can disappear as a result of weight loss, although the weight loss might have to be significant.

“Another important element is to learn to manage your condition effectively: have regular check-ups, follow the advice that you’re given, take the medication you’re prescribed, and seek help if anything doesn’t feel right.”

In summary

  • Men are more at risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
  • Men are more likely to be diagnosed later.
  • Complications, like foot ulcers, are more common in men
  • The symptoms of diabetes can be improved, and even reversed, through healthy diet and exercise.
  • Having check-ups and following your prescribed treatment is vital to managing diabetes effectively.

5 ways to cut your risk of diabetes

Help reduce your chances of getting type 2 diabetes by following this advice.

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Last updated: Jun 16 2020

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