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World Diabetes Day: Immigrants in Austria develop diabetes earlier than in their home countries

(Vienna 14th November 2011) People who have migrated to Austria on average develop diabetes five years earlier than in their home countries. These are the findings of a diabetes study involving over 100 immigrants at the Medical University of Vienna, led by Bernhard Ludvik and Karin Schindler from the University Department of Internal Medicine III: “It appears that they adopt our poor eating habits, exercise less than they did back home and are more likely to be overweight. Austria has a negative effect on their health.”

Added to this, says Ludvik, is the fact that immigrants with diabetes in Austria – despite intensive support and care – are on no better medications than they would be in their home countries. This is due in part to the problems of accessing the Austrian healthcare system, says the clinician. “Diabetes is detected much later among immigrants and in some cases it is only diagnosed by accident, when the patient goes to the doctor for an unrelated problem,” says Ludvik. These accessibility problems are associated with linguistic, cultural and social barriers.

In Austria, diabetes is often only detected in patients with an immigrant background when the disease is already fully developed. According to the Austria Diabetes Society (ÖDG), only 40 per cent of diabetic Austrian patients are diagnosed at a comparably late stage.

“We need to endeavour to make it easier for immigrants to gain access to the healthcare system and to look after their needs more. This also includes having diabetes nurses who speak their native language. After all, we have between 800,000 and a million people with a migration background in this country,” continues Ludvik, who is also President of the Austrian Diabetes Initiative (DIÖ), at the World Diabetes Day which is being held today, on the 14th of November. Ludvik will also be speaking on this topic at the symposium entitled “Migration - Epidemiological and Medical Aspects” next Wednesday (16.11).

A further logical call to action arising from the diabetes study, which was sponsored by the Mayoral Fund of the City of Vienna: “The Austrians need to reconsider their eating habits and exercise more in order to prevent diabetes.” According to statistics from Statistik Austria, around 400,000 people in Austria suffer from diabetes mellitus. 68 per cent of male diabetics and 74 per cent of female diabetics are 65 years of age or older.

The symposium, entitled “Migration – Epidemiological and Medical Aspects” will be held as the opening event at the Annual Conference of the Austrian Society for Tropical Medicine and Parasitology (ÖGTP) at the Medical Society (9 a.m. – 5.30 p.m., Frankgasse 8, 1080 Vienna). Register at or tel.: +43 (0)1/402 13 41-40.