Diabetes or diabetes mellitus - a disease characterised by abnormal blood sugar levels - represents a growing threat to human health.
Over 33 million people in the Union suffer from diabetes.
The most prevalent forms of diabetes are caused by decreased production of or sensitivity to insulin, a pancreatic hormone that allows the body to absorb sugar. With deficient insulin function, sugar accumulates in the blood, leading to vascular damage. Symptoms include dehydration, fatigue and nausea, while long-term complications include heart disease, kidney failure, retinal damage and blindness, nerve damage and risk of amputation.
Except for genetic conditions or special types of diabetes (like type-1 diabetes), it is often a preventable chronic disease through a healthy lifestyle starting in childhood. Although there is no cure, the disease is treatable and can be managed by insulin supplementation in case of diabetes type 1, or a combination of diet, physical activity, medication and insulin supplementation in case of diabetes type 2.
In recent years, an explosion in diabetes incidence occurred, not only in the EU, but throughout the world. According to the latest WHO statistics, about 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, a number likely to more than double in the next 20 years. According to IDF (International Diabetes Federation) data, the absolute number of diabetics in the EU-27 will rise from approximately 33 million in 2010 to 38 million in 2030 (see the European Commission's Public Health web site for more information). In 2010, approximately 9% of the adult (20-79 years) EU-27 population was diabetic. Many people have diabetes for years and simply do not realise it until the symptoms appear.
The EU has been continuously supporting research on diabetes through framework programmes. In the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7 2007-2013) the focus was on the causes of the different types of diabetes, and their prevention and treatment, with special attention to juvenile diseases and factors operating in childhood. Research in this area continues under Horizon 2020, with a broader scope aiming to translate new knowledge into innovative applications and accelerate large-scale uptake and deployment in different health and care settings, such in the Global Action for Chronic Diseases (GACD).
Obesity is associated with many diseases, including cardiovascular diseases or diabetes mellitus type 2 and has therefore been shown to reduce life expectancy. While only recently identified as a major health concern, obesity levels have been growing steadily. Weight problems and obesity are increasing at a rapid rate in most of the EU Member States, with estimates of 51.6 % of the EU’s population (18 and over) overweight in 2014 (Eurostat). According to the WHO latest estimates in European Union countries, overweight affects 30-70% and obesity affects 10-30% of adults. The condition threatens to rank among the biggest causes of premature death in both the industrialised and emerging economies.
In recognition of a need for action the EU supported research in this area under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7: 2007-2013) and Horizon 2020 (2014-2020). The focus was on multidisciplinary approaches including genetics, life style and epidemiology, with special attention on juvenile diseases and factors operating in childhood. Advancing our understanding of the interaction between food, nutrition, genetics and health is a key to making our diets healthier and to combat obesity.