Opinion Former Article

Diabetes UK: One million risk health by keeping diabetes secret

One million risk health by keeping diabetes secret

Nearly one million people1 in the UK could be risking their health and experiencing emotional distress by keeping their diabetes a secret according to a survey by leading health charity Diabetes UK.

The survey2, conducted for Diabetes Week (12 – 18 June 2011), found that one in three people with diabetes (34 per cent) had, or were still, keeping their diabetes a secret. Worryingly, almost half of these people (49 per cent) felt that not talking about their diabetes had impacted on how they manage their condition and over a third (39 per cent) felt this had affected their physical or emotional health.

Over a quarter of people (27 per cent) had kept their condition a secret for fear of discrimination or bullying. These people were most likely to keep their diabetes a secret at work (59 per cent) however 56 per cent had also kept their diabetes a secret from their friends. Reasons for doing so included not wanting diabetes to affect employment chances or people assuming the condition developed as a result of an unhealthy diet.

Barbara Young, Chief Executive at Diabetes UK, said: “We have to ask why so many people with diabetes keep it a secret. Learning to live with and managing diabetes is challenging enough without the physical and psychological impact of such a burden. It is hugely concerning that the health and well-being of so many people could be at risk as a result of discrimination or prejudice.”

Many survey respondents commented that they missed insulin injections or delayed testing their blood glucose to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Badly managed blood glucose levels can increase the risk of long term complications, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and amputation, and short term complications, such as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)3 and hypoglycaemia4 (hypo). Both DKA and hypos can result in hospitalisation or can even be fatal if not treated immediately.

Barbara Young continued: “There are 2.8 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK who need friends, family, employers and the public to understand how common diabetes is becoming and how serious it can be if people aren’t supported to manage their condition.

“We believe all people should receive enough support to help them manage their diabetes and that’s why services such as our Diabetes UK Careline are so vital. Simply knowing you have someone to talk to when you need it most can make all the difference to help people better manage their diabetes and reduce their risk of developing devastating complications.”

Other key statistics from the survey include:

39 per cent of women have kept their diabetes a secret in comparison to 28 per cent of men.
People aged 17 – 21 were most likely to keep their diabetes a secret (48 per cent of this group had done so)
35 per cent of people feel they do not receive enough support to manage their diabetes.
41 per cent of people with diabetes would like more psychological support.
48 per cent of under 16s have kept their diabetes a secret at school.

Diabetes UK is raising awareness of the importance of talking about diabetes during Diabetes Week and is aiming to raise £200,000 throughout the week to expand its Careline – a vital service providing information and emotional support to anyone experiencing emotional distress, anxiety, depression and other difficulties related to diabetes. This could include extending the opening hours, reducing the cost of a call, introducing in-depth counselling sessions and employing more staff to answer enquiries.

For more information about Diabetes Week and how you can get involved, please call 020 7424 1000, visit www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetesweek, or email DiabetesWeek@diabetes.org.uk

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For further media information please contact Katie Power on 020 7424 1164 or the Diabetes UK Media Relations Team on 0207 424 1165 or email pressteam@diabetes.org.uk.


For urgent out of hours media enquiries only please call 07711 176 028. ISDN facilities available.



Notes to editor:


1 Actual figure 952,000.

2 The survey was conducted on 3,764 people with diabetes from January to February 2011.

3 In the short term, consistent high blood glucose levels can lead to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This happens because of a lack of glucose entering the cells where it can be used as energy. The body begins to use stores of fat as an alternative source of energy, and this in turn produces an acidic by-product known as ketones. These are very harmful and if the level of ketones in the body continues to rise, ketoacidosis develops. Eventually, if untreated, the level of ketones will continue to rise and, combined with high blood glucose levels, a coma will develop which can be fatal.

4 Hypoclycaemia occurs when blood glucose levels fall too low, Hypos can happen when diabetes is treated with insulin and/or with some diabetes medication. Reasons for a hypo include too much diabetes medication, delayed or missed meal or snack, insufficient carbohydrate, unplanned exercise or drinking alcohol without food. Hypos must be treated immediately with a short-acting carbohydrate to avoid it from becoming more severe

5 Type 1 diabetes develops when insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed. This type of diabetes usually appears before the age of 40 and accounts for around 10 per cent of all people with diabetes. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, it is not known why it develops and it is not connected with being overweight. People with Type 1 diabetes have to take insulin either via a pump or by injections several times a day to stay alive. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly. Insulin acts as a key unlocking the cells, so if there is not enough insulin, or it is not working properly, the cells are only partially unlocked (or not at all) and glucose builds up in the blood. Type 2 diabetes usually affects people over 40 (over 25 in people from South Asian and Black backgrounds) and can be treated with a healthy diet and increased physical activity but medication and/or insulin is often required. In around 80 per cent of cases the condition is linked with being overweight and can go undetected for up to ten years.

6 Diabetes UK is the leading charity for over 3.5 million people in the UK with diabetes. In 2011, Diabetes UK aims to spend over £6 million on diabetes research to investigate the causes and prevention of diabetes, to improve care and treatment of diabetes and ultimately to work towards a cure. For more information visit www.diabetes.org.uk. In the UK, there are currently 2.8 million people diagnosed with diabetes and it is estimated that 850,000 people have Type 2 diabetes but do not know it.

7 One person is diagnosed with diabetes every three minutes in the UK.


Diabetes UK is the operating name of The British Diabetic Association, a company limited by guarantee. Registered as a company in England & Wales No. 339181.Registered as a charity in England & Wales (No. 215199) and in Scotland (No. SC039136) VAT registration No. 232 3801 96. Registered address: Macleod House, 10 Parkway, London NW1 7AA.

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