This number has doubled over the past 20 years. 1 And yet despite its prevalence, diabetes is still often misunderstood.
To help with this, we recently ran a webinar to help advisers better understand the condition and the opportunity to help their clients with diabetes. The webinar featured Gavin Cookman, Non-Executive Director at the NHS and former board member of Diabetes UK. Gavin has lived with Type 1 diabetes most of his life and is passionate about raising awareness of the condition. He’s extremely knowledgeable about it and here’s what I learned from talking to him.
1. Diabetes is a big deal
There’s a myth that diabetes is a mild disease, but no form of diabetes is mild. In layman’s terms, diabetes causes a person's blood glucose level to become too high. This happens because there’s not enough insulin in the body to change glucose into energy. Too much sugar in the blood over long periods of time can lead to sight loss, amputation, kidney failure, stroke or death. Too little sugar in the blood can result in losing consciousness or even falling into a coma.
When it’s not managed well, it can cause serious health complications. One in five strokes are caused by diabetes. More than 1,700 people have their sight seriously affected and more than 8,500 leg, toe or foot amputations happen every year because of the condition.1
But living with diabetes and managing it isn’t easy. Maintaining good blood glucose control is a continual balancing act between taking medicines (oral tablets or insulin injections), exercising, eating the right food, managing stress, and learning how your body reacts to these things. So it’s hardly surprising that the demands of the disease can affect people’s psychological wellbeing.
2. Not everyone with diabetes is the same
There are two main types of diabetes and the demographics for each are quite different.
- Type 1 is when a person’s body can’t make insulin at all. A lifelong condition that can’t be prevented, it typically starts in childhood because of an autoimmune response and isn’t associated with weight or lifestyle. It’s treated by injecting insulin or using an insulin pump. Around 8% of people with diabetes have Type 11 and it affects men more than women. 2
- Type 2 develops when the body still makes some insulin but it’s not able to work properly or the body can’t use the insulin as efficiently. It can be affected by lifestyle, which means that three in five cases can be managed by making healthier choices. One in four people with Type 2 eventually need to take insulin.1
90% of people with diabetes have Type 2 and it’s the type of diabetes which is growing the most.1 Those with Type 2 normally develop it later in life. And again it affects men more than women. It can start for a minority in their 20s and it peaks in the 40-69 age group for both men and women. 2
3. The causes of diabetes vary considerably
Diabetes causes vary depending on your genetic makeup, family history, ethnicity, health and environmental factors. There’s no common cause that fits every type of diabetes.
Genetics play a big part, which means you’re more at risk of Type 2 diabetes if you have a close family member who has it.1 With Type 1 there’s usually a genetic predisposition but the causes are still not properly understood.
In England, almost 6.7% of the population have been diagnosed with diabetes, with more than 3.1 million people living with the condition.4
There seems to be increasing evidence that the autoimmune response can be triggered by environmental factors including viral infection, vaccines, chemical toxins within food and even low levels of vitamin D.3
Ethnicity and lifestyle also have an impact. South Asian and black people are two to four times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than white people.1 And whilst Type 2 diabetes isn’t simply caused by excessive weight, obesity is the single greatest risk factor for developing the condition.1 High blood pressure or cholesterol, living an inactive lifestyle, getting older and poor diet can all play a part. 3
4. Not everyone knows they have diabetes
It’s estimated that almost one million people are living with Type 2 diabetes and don’t know it. But early diagnosis is vital – complications can begin five to six years before some people actually find out they have it.1
5. There are diabetes regional ‘hot spots’
Sadly, there’s no shortage of diabetics – it affects all parts of the UK.
In England, almost 6.7% of the population have been diagnosed with diabetes, with more than 3.1 million people living with the condition. 4
But there are large variations around the country. For example, the highest prevalence is in Bradford (over 10%) while Richmond has only 3.63% and Central London just over 4%.4
6. Trying to get insurance as a diabetic can be difficult
Many people living with diabetes don’t even consider protection insurance because if they’ve already failed to get something like travel insurance, they’ll assume they’ll get rejected for other cover too.
For those who do attempt it, the initial quote is often a headline figure with premiums added on top of that when the application goes through underwriting. The application process can be complicated and take months, and there’s no guarantee it will be accepted.
Gavin says himself that even though he’d worked in life insurance, he’d never bought cover until recently as the process, prices and lack of relevance or care for the condition by some providers made it impossible to buy.
But thankfully our industry is changing and providers are taking steps to make protection more accessible and relevant to all types of customers, including those with chronic health conditions like diabetes. Products like our Diabetes Life Cover have a tailored application process, different underwriting philosophy and more personalised pricing model – so we can accept and price applications in real time – dramatically improving the experience of buying insurance for customers with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.
To hear more from Gavin and get more information on getting cover for clients – the facts and the opportunity, watch the webinar on our CPD hub.
You can also use our range of tools and support to help you discuss cover with your clients with diabetes.
1 Diabetes UK, Us, diabetes and a lot of facts and stats, January 2019
2 NHS, National Diabetes Audit, March 2018
3 Diabetes.co.uk, Causes of diabetes, October 2019
4 The Guardian, Diabetes diagnoses have more than doubled in 20 years, UK analysis suggests, February 2018