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HomemieventsVision Loss from Diabetes ‘Catastrophe’ can be Prevented

Vision Loss from Diabetes ‘Catastrophe’ can be Prevented

Anti-sugar campaigner, ophthalmologist, and South Australia’s Lieutenant Governor Dr James Muecke AM says he’s worked with patients and their GPs to help put Type 2 diabetes into remission, leading to improvements in sight-threatening eye diseases.

Speaking to allied health professionals attending Healthia’s Inspired Conference 2022, Dr Muecke said he polled his patients living with diabetes – only one knew that Type 2 diabetes could be put into remission.

“Close to 20 patients have now put their diabetes into remission” with a knock-on impact on their eye disease, Dr Muecke said, describing the collaborative experiment as “one of the most exciting experiences” of his medical career.

Dr Muecke, the 2020 Australian of the Year, has used his platform to campaign against high-sugar, high carbohydrate diets, saying they have led to an “inexorable rise” of Type 2 diabetes globally.

He described Type 2 diabetes as a “largely avoidable, man-made disease” with a myriad of consequence, including vision loss and blindness.

98% Preventable

Dr Muecke told the Gold Coast conference that 98% of vision loss and blindness due to Type 2 diabetes is preventable.

“But to avoid the blinding consequences of this disease, patients need to have their eyes checked on a regular basis. Problem is, in Australia, of the 1.7m with diabetes well over half are not having their regular all-important sight-saving eye checks.

“That’s why it has become the leading cause of blindness among working age adults in this country… it’s also the fastest growing cause of vision loss in Aboriginal people.”

He said there has been an 80-fold increase in Type 2 diabetes in Australia’s Indigenous population over the past half century.

“I have no doubt that the modern diet of ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks is driving this catastrophe in our First Nation people,” Dr Muecke said.

Overfed and Undernourished

The disease was also having a marked impact on people in lower socio-economic groups. Fifty percent of adults in Greater Western Sydney either had pre-diabetes or were already living with Type 2 diabetes, he said.

“For the first time in our history we are overfed and undernourished.”

Diabetes is now impacting children as young as five in Australia, with northern Australia “leading the world in Type 2 diabetes in younger people,” Dr Muecke told the Healthia audience.

Dr Muecke said important messages about diabetes and eye health were “not getting out there”. This lack of awareness, combined with the addictive nature of sugar, its accessibility, the relentless advertising of “ultra-processed food-like substances” and sugar’s addition to so many food products made it difficult for people to avoid.

He once again called out the high carbohydrate diet promoted by Australian dietary guidelines, saying they were outdated and flawed.

A Revolution is Coming

Healthia Board Chair Dr Glen Richards had earlier told the conference that it was exciting to return to face-to-face learning, after more than 1,000 days in the “wilderness”. The Inspired conference had been cancelled twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Dr Richards told delegates that healthcare was undergoing a “major revolution”.

“We are in a revolution, not an evolution. It’s coming through fast.” The revolution was being driven by the “rise and rise of technology”, advances in medical science and big data.

He said the future of healthcare was in collaborative care with other health professionals but also with the patients themselves.

“They (patients) think that we should be in a collaborative relationship with them… they want an interaction that is two-way… so that they are definitely part of the team looking after themselves.”

Throughout the conference, participants also received insights on building skills in teaching, supervision, and research through multi-disciplinary workshops.

CEO and Managing Director Wes Coote took delegates through the vision and purpose of the Healthia brand, saying it aimed to be the leading diversified healthcare provider in Australia and New Zealand.

He also acknowledged how well allied health professionals within the group had handled the difficulties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The optometry stream included lectures on glaucoma management (Dr Brendan Cronin), dry eye (Dr Jason Holland), keratoconus (Dr David Gunn), retinal detachment and cataract (Dr Sean Cheng), diabetic retinopathy (A/Prof Antony Kwan), and lesions of the eye (Dr Matthew Cranstoun).

Healthia is an Australian allied health leader with a clinic led approach and over 300 locations combined across physiotherapy, podiatry and optometry.