Make no mistake: Australia is in crisis.
Type 2 diabetes is an epidemic sweeping the nation, affecting more than 2 million Australians at a cost of more than $2BN per year to the health system. Type 2 diabetes doesn’t care about your social status, where you live or (increasingly) your age. If you have a poor diet, exercise little, are overweight or obese, or have a family history of type 2 diabetes, you’re at risk of developing the condition. And once in its insidious grip, your chance of further complications – of heart disease, amputation, blindness, kidney disease, stroke and dementia – increases dramatically.
In early 2023, the Australian federal government announced an inquiry into diabetes to tackle this growing epidemic, inviting submissions from the public. Defeat Diabetes founder Dr Peter Brukner OAM, expert Dr Paul Mason, medical advisory panellist Dr James Muecke AM, and Defeat Diabetes joined the hundreds of doctors, peak bodies, organisations, people living with diabetes and hospitals who submitted.
So we were pumped when Dr Brukner and Dr Muecke were invited separately to appear before the committee and share their experience and recommendations for tackling diabetes.
Dr James Muecke spoke of the significant cost to the healthcare system of treating eye conditions caused by type 2 diabetes: “Injections alone cost $200 million a year. This is preventable.”
He also referenced the dietary guidelines review currently underway. The review seems to be a hot topic among healthcare professionals at the committee hearing; a few sessions we’ve tuned into have flagged the guidelines as a concern. Dr James Muecke said:
“We have to ask, have the 2013 dietary guidelines achieved their objective? Clearly not, with the rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes. They have actually caused harm.”
In his session, Dr Brukner focused on how healthcare professionals should promote low carb diets as an evidence-based approach to managing type 2 diabetes. He also highlighted how successful low carb programs in the UK and US, supported by the healthcare system and health insurers, were impacting the remission and management of people with type 2 diabetes.
Here are four key takeouts we loved from Dr Brukner’s passionate appeal to the Diabetes Inquiry committee.
On the dietary guidelines review:
The nutritional guidelines review should be based on science, not selective science.
Selective science is more dangerous than no science.
We need an independent committee to examine the evidence without a conflict of interest favouring big food or big pharma—a broad spectrum of people with different backgrounds, dietary ideologies, and various opinions. Transparency is the key. The evidence must be published and made public so the medical community can critically review it and provide feedback.
On nutritional education for healthcare professionals:
Nutritional education needs to be embedded into medical schools. GPs and other healthcare specialists receive minimal training on nutrition – literally, hours – so it’s no wonder they find it difficult to advise patients. All too often, the patients are educating the specialists in this regard!
How to tackle the food system:
We need to educate and legislate. We need to inform the public about the health problems associated with ultra-processed foods and support that process with legislation such as restrictions on junk food and better labelling. But importantly, it needs to be a concerted, holistic effort, not tokenistic.
On the problems with ultra-processed foods:
Unfortunately, the food industry has seduced us into eating sweeter and sweeter ‘foods’, full of additives and seed oils. Seed oils, in particular, are sabotaging our health. They cause low-grade inflammation, the root cause of most chronic diseases. Removing these ultra-processed products would be massively advantageous to Australians’ health. We could halve the rate of disease.
On measuring the outcomes from the Inquiry, Dr Brukner urged the committee to ‘be brave’. In his words:
“I’m 71, and I’m running out of time to make a difference. But you young people got into politics to help people and make change – don’t let this opportunity pass you by. You’ll never have another chance to help as many people in one fell swoop.”
We couldn’t agree more, Dr Brukner. We couldn’t agree more.