Urgent action is needed to reduce the risk of diabetes in the Indigenous population, say health experts.
A study by Dr Robyn McDermott, Pro-vice Chancellor of the Division of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia, shows that while clinical care of adults with diabetes has improved, more Indigenous Australians are developing the disease.
The results, published in the latest Medical Journal of Australia (MJA), reveal that patients in Torres Strait Islander communities who have diabetes are younger and have higher average weight than their counterparts five years ago.
"Since 1999, there have been significant improvements in systems for early detection and case management of people with diabetes," says Dr McDermott.
"In contrast, there are few successful interventions for dealing with the causes of diabetes in the population, particularly central obesity, poor quality of food and tobacco use.
"Urgent action to improve nutrition, decrease smoking and increase physical activity is required to reduce the risk of diabetes in younger people."
In their editorial for the MJA, Professor Kerin O'Dea from St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne, and colleagues, say prevention of diabetes must go hand-in-hand with prevention of obesity.
"Preventing excessive weight gain in Indigenous communities is complicated by the strong link between poverty and obesity," says Prof O'Dea.
"Healthy diets based on lean meats, whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables are much more costly."
Prof O'Dea suggests several areas in which practical interventions may make a difference, including improving the nutritional status of infants and pregnant mothers, preventing and managing the complications of diabetes, and improving the uptake and use of medicines.