Diabetes is a chronic condition marked by high levels of glucose in the blood. It is caused by the inability of the body to produce or effectively use insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas to control blood glucose levels.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form. It involves a genetic component, but is largely preventable, and can be managed with changes to diet and physical activity, and with medications.

Diabetes is an independent risk factor for developing many forms of heart disease (Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute 2018, AIHW 2016). Over time, high blood sugar levels from diabetes can damage blood vessels in the heart, making them more likely to develop fatty deposits. Diabetes and elevated blood glucose are associated with an approximate doubling of the risk of cardiovascular disease (IDF 2019).

Diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD) also share risk factors. Many of the complications from having diabetes come from damage to blood vessels as a result of high blood pressure, abnormal blood lipids, and smoking. 

In 2017–18, based on self-reported data from the ABS 2017–18 National Health Survey:

  •  an estimated 1.2 million Australians (4.9% of the total population) had diabetes (AIHW 2020a). This includes people with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and type unknown, but excludes gestational diabetes
  • diabetes prevalence was higher for males (5.5%) than females (4.3%)
  • prevalence increased with age, from 1.0% at age 0–44 to 18.6% at age 75 and over
  •  age-standardised prevalence increased from 3.3% in 2001 to 4.4% in 2017–18
  • an estimated 660,000 adults with self-reported diabetes also reported having CVD, corresponding to 57% of adults with diabetes (AIHW 2020b).

Information based on self-reported data underestimates prevalence as it does not include people with undiagnosed diabetes. The ABS 2011–12 Australian Health Survey, which included both measured and self-reported data, showed that for every 4 adults with diagnosed diabetes, there was 1 who was undiagnosed.

Figure 1: Prevalence  of self-reported diabetes, by sex, 2001 to 2017–18

The line chart shows that self-reported diabetes increased from 3.4% in 2001 to 5.0% in 2017–18 for males, and from 3.3% to 3.8% for females.

Population groups

After adjusting for different population age structures:

  • the prevalence of self-reported diabetes in 2017–18 was similar across remoteness areas—4.3% in Major cities, 3.9% in Inner regional areas and 5.3% in Outer regional and remote areas (AIHW 2020a)
  • prevalence varied by socioeconomic disadvantage, being twice as high for people living in the lowest socioeconomic areas (6.3%) as for people living in the highest socioeconomic areas (3.2%)
  • 13% of Indigenous Australians aged 18 and over self-reported having diabetes or high blood/urine sugar levels (HSL) in 2018–19. Indigenous Australians were 2.8 times as likely to report having diabetes or HSL as non-Indigenous Australians (17% and 6.1%) (AIHW & NIAA 2020).