Diabetes and the Exposome: Bridging Knowledge Gaps for Improved Health

The diabetes challenge

Worldwide, over half a billion people live with diabetes and this is expected to increase by 46% by 2045. This increase equates to around 1 in 8 adults predicted to be living with the disease. Even more alarming is that a high number of people live with the disease without even knowing it. This was the scene set at the latest LongITools policy forum by Elisabeth Dupont, International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Europe Regional Manager. IDF Europe is an umbrella organisation representing both people living with diabetes and healthcare professionals across 73 national diabetes organisations in 46 countries across Europe.

Several risk factors for type 2 diabetes are non-modifiable such as age, family history and ethnicity, but often people delay or skip their medical appointments due to the stigma surrounding the disease and the misconception that it is self-inflicted. This increases the risk of life altering complications and worse health outcomes.

Community engagement

During the forum, we were privileged to hear from Mark Johns, a UK citizen living with type 2 diabetes for five years. Despite making many lifestyle changes, he is not confident that he will ever be fully in control of the disease. His experience of the NHS, the UK’s national healthcare service provider, is mixed and he believes that cost is a prohibitive factor for many people in managing their disease well.

Understanding and addressing risk

Joline Beulens, a Professor of Epidemiology at Amsterdam University Medical Centers, and a researcher in the EXPANSE project, explained that although lifestyle is an important factor in type 2 diabetes, so much about the effect of the environment on the disease is unknown. Her research has included studying environmental exposures in different living environments, the effect of food environments and access to green space, as well as the social environment, on the risk of type 2 diabetes. Both air pollution and residential noise were shown to be associated with a higher risk, while access to green space is associated with lower risks.

The way forward

The discussion that followed focused on the lack of understanding of diabetes, even amongst those with a medical background, on prevention and research which addresses causality.

In summary, we know that lifestyle and our living environments are associated with the risk of diabetes, but more research is needed to show how the different exposures (the exposome) work collectively to impact our health.

“With the right policies, prevention and risk-reduction programmes, including access to the appropriate tools and technologies, people with diabetes can lead long, healthy and fulfilling lives.”
Elisabeth Dupont

LongITools hopes to be able to provide a better understanding of the exposome and its impact on the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Through our research and by developing new methodologies and tools, we hope that we can inform current policies and future policy development to help improve the health of European citizens.

To read the full article or watch the recording, please visit the LongITools website.

July 5, 2023