Diabetes on the increase in Spain

Diabetes on the increase in Spain

Diabetes is a massive health problem in Spain. The number of sufferers is increasing year on year and has reached unprecedentedly high levels. The number of diabetics in the country has increased by 42 per cent in the last two years, according to Atlas, an organisation that carries out a worldwide study of diabetes every two years. According to the International Diabetes Federation (FID) more than five million Spaniards are living with this scourge on a daily basis.

Having recently been diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic, Paul Whitelock has taken a keen interest in the subject.

Personal diagnosis

When I started to display symptons of fatigue, loss of balance, shortness of breath, raging thirst, aching limbs, impaired vision and poor circulation, I put it down to the legacy of having had Coronavirus in January 2021.

I was also overweight – a 5’9” (1.75 m) man should not weigh 15 stone 11 pounds (100 kg).

Mrs Whitelock, my better half and a former intensive care nurse, was convinced I had developed diabetes. So, when my GP looked at the results of my last three blood test results and declared me diabetic, it was really no great surprise.

I carried out some research.

Facts and figures

The incidence rate of the disease in Spain is “worrying”, according to Antonio Pérez, an endocrinologist and president of the Sociedad Espanola de Diabetes (SED), the Spanish Diabetes Society.  The number of diabetics has grown by 42% in just two years, based on the data collected by Átlas. This is unprecedented. It trebles the speed of the spread of diabetes compared to the rest of the world. The result of such a rapid increase means that Spain is the second country in Europe with the highest incidence rate of diabetics in the adult population, only behind Turkey.  The Atlas report for 2021 estimates that one in seven Spaniards over the age of 19 suffers from this illness, about 5.1 million, a huge number, to which some 400,000 new patients are added each year. The Spanish incidence rate, with 14.8% of the adult population suffering from diabetes, is enormous, compared to neighbouring countries. The problem is so great that the IDF estimates that the healthcare costs associated with this illness in Spain amount to 13,430 million euros each year. Antonio Pérez considers that the accelerated spread and the high incidence rate are due to the “lack of effective prevention strategies” on the part of the health and educational administrations, added to an increase in people who are sedentary, overweight and/or obese, as well as the proliferation of unhealthy eating.

This lack of resources means that 1.5 million Spaniards do not know that they suffer from diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes proliferates in ageing societies, such as Spain, but unhealthy lifestyle habits are also clear risk factors, such as the lack of physical activity and diets rich in fats, sugars and ultra-processed products, which lead to obesity.

Proof of the importance of these socioeconomic factors is that 40% of diagnosed Spanish diabetics are obese and 80% are overweight. Specialists estimate that an excess of between 5 and 7 kilos maintained for several years doubles the chances of adults suffering from diabetes.

The lack of effective early detection programmes, coupled with the “shelving” of everything that was not Covid-19-related, means that many Spaniards are not aware of their problem, as it is a silent illness, until it generates a cardiovascular lesion, one of the most common complications.

Adult diabetes is highly likely to result in serious damage, including death, if it is not treated or if the therapy is not applied with perseverance and rigour.

Neglected diabetes is the source of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, blindness or leg amputations.

Patient organisations and medical societies report that in Spain there is a lack of resources and a thorough update of the national strategy against this disease, which results in low prevention and early detection, insufficient health controls and diabetes education of patients, and in unequal access to care and medication resulting in a “postcode lottery”.

14 November was World Diabetes Day. The president of the SED called for Spanish political and health leaders to move from words to deeds, to improve the lives of people with diabetes and to prevent the illness in those at high risk.

A personal perspective

As for me, I have to say that the treatment and advice I have received from my local GP (aptly named Milagros – miracles) and her practice nurse have been outstanding. The Seguridad Social here in the Serranía de Ronda is taking diabetes very seriously indeed.

My regime as outlined by these medical practitioners is threefold: exercise, diet and medication.

  • I am to walk for an hour twice a day, in the morning and in the evenings.
  • I am to cut out sugar, avoid fatty foods, reduce carbohydrate intake and eat smaller portions of a balanced diet. No alcohol or fizzy drinks. Stick to water (yawn!)
  • I take a diuretic and an anti-diabetes pill once a day and a blood sugar-reducing tablet three times a day after meals. My previously high blood pressure has normalized of its own accord, so I no longer take a pill for that.

Weight loss

I lost 6 kilos in about a month but cannot seem to shed any more. This is a shame, because my private health insurance, Sanitas, will reduce my premium if I get down to 91 kilos by the end of the year – only three more kilos to go in, what, five weeks or so?

Wish me luck!


  • Atlas
  • Diario SUR
  • International Diabetes Federation (FID)
  • SaludAndalucía
  • Sociedad Espanola de Diabetes (SED)
  • Wikipedia
Paul Whitelock

About Paul Whitelock

Paul Whitelock is a retired former languages teacher, school inspector and translator, who emigrated to the Serranía de Ronda in 2008, where he lives with his second wife, Rita. He spends his time between Montejaque and Ronda doing DIY, gardening and writing.