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Disadvantaged at most risk of high blood sugar related illnesses

Study finds vulnerable communities at greater danger of Type 2 diabetes, heart, kidney and eye disease

A study by University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers in partnership with Southern IML Pathology has found that people from disadvantaged areas are most at risk of illness from high blood sugar levels. The study is published in Australian Health Review.

The researchers analysed data from 29,064 individuals in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven (who were already accessing the health system) and found higher disadvantage was associated with belonging to a higher blood sugar category.

Residents from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods were one-and-a-half times more likely to be in the highest blood sugar category than those from the least disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

While the data was from a single region, given the large sample size and the diverse socio-economic status of the Illawarra-Shoalhaven population the authors believe the paper’s findings have nationwide relevance.

Professor Andrew Bonney (pictured above), the Roberta Williams Chair of General Practice in UOW’s School of Medicine said the results meant the most vulnerable communities were at the highest risk of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.

“The results were quite confronting. Increasing neighbourhood disadvantage was associated with higher blood sugar levels, which can cause increased risk of heart, kidney and eye disease,” Professor Bonney said.

“We know from previous Australian research that people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods are at increased risk of developing pre-diabetes and diabetes.

“This research now shows that people in these neighbourhoods also have poorer sugar control.”

The research team hoped the findings resulted in public discussion about providing health services to disadvantaged communities to help prevent these diseases.

The rapid increase in Type 2 diabetes prevalence, both globally and nationally, is a major concern for the community and public health agencies.

The ability to identify at-risk populations down to the neighbourhood level meant public health programs and campaigns could be more effectively targeted, reducing overall cost to the health system.

“Health services in disadvantaged communities are doing their best with the resources available,” Professor Bonney said.

“However, international research shows that resources need to be increased to achieve favourable outcomes in disadvantaged groups. For example, this may include more or longer disease management visits, or providing culturally appropriate interventions.

“Given the high cost of diabetes complications, additional health care services in disadvantaged communities could mean a reduction in hospital costs down the track.”

“Cross-sectional study of area-level disadvantage and glycaemic-related risk in community health service users in the Southern.IML Research (SIMLR) cohort” by Roger Cross, Andrew D. Bonney, Darren J. Mayne and Kathryn M. Weston is published in Australian Health Review (available from