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'What is diabetes?' - Dr James Muecke AM, 2020 Australian of the Year

Posted on May 13 2020

 The following is the third in a series of weekly guest posts from 2020 Australian of the Year, Dr James Muecke AM. 

About Dr Muecke

56-year-old Dr James Muecke AM is passionate about fighting blindness. His focus is the leading cause of blindness in working age adults – type 2 diabetes – a spiralling epidemic that in some regions of Australia is impacting over one-in-ten people. It's also the fastest growing cause of vision loss in Aboriginal people and the sixth-biggest killer in this country. James wants to challenge our perception of sugar and its toxic impact on the development of type 2 diabetes.

James co-founded Sight For All, a social impact organisation aiming to create a world where everyone can see. Sight For All’s comprehensive and sustainable educational strategies are impacting on the lives of over one million people each year. 

With 80% of world blindness avoidable – and almost 90% in low income countries – James treats blindness as a human rights issue

This is the third piece in this series, to read the second message click here

What is diabetes?

The word diabetes comes from the ancient Greek “to pass through” and suggests excessive urination, one of the earliest symptoms of the disease. There are two main categories of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes, which makes up 10% of all diabetes, is due to auto-immune damage to the pancreas, the organ that secretes insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin is the hormone that’s responsible for moving dietary glucose from the blood into every cell of our bodies, where it’s stored and utilised as an energy source. Without insulin, blood glucose levels rise dangerously, and this can be life-threatening. The onset is usually rapid and can happen at any age.

Type 2 diabetes, which makes up over 90% of all diabetes, is a progressive metabolic disorder where the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin. Modifiable risk factors include an unhealthy diet (too much added sugar and refined carbohydrate), physical inactivity and weight gain. Importantly, there is very strong evidence that type 2 diabetes can be prevented and even reversed with lifestyle behavioural changes.

It’s easy to nominate now for the 2021 Awards, just complete the online nomination form at

Need to know more? Click here to read the next piece!


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