Around 280 Australians develop diabetes every day.

UOW researchers Associate Professor Thomas Astell-Burt and Dr Xiaoqi Feng, members of the Western Sydney Diabetes Prevention and Management Initiative, have been awarded an National Health and Medical Research Council grant of $740,000 to continue one of the world’s largest studies into environmental factors that may contribute to successful management of the disease.

The spotlight is on western Sydney where incidence is among the highest. According to Dr Astell-Burt, director of Public Health Sciences at Western Sydney University, the prevalence of diabetes in Sydney’s west is between 6 to 8 per cent of the population compared with only 2 per cent in more affluent areas in the eastern suburbs and north shore.

“We have researched this since 2012, with incredible support from Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) and WentWest Primary Health Network, and found we have this wide inequity within our city which we think may be driven by the environments we live in,” Dr Astell-Burt said.

“In western suburbs like Blacktown and Mount Druitt, between 10 and 20 per cent of residents live within a kilometre of a takeaway, but do not have a supermarket or green grocer within the same distance.

“This circumstance is likely to influence decision making in terms of what people eat and, therefore, the success of diabetes prevention and management efforts.”

Dr Feng, a senior lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Wollongong, who also received a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Heart Foundation of Australia to conduct related research on diabetes prevention with WSLHD, says the NHMRC and Heart Foundation-funded projects are focused on exploring environmental relationships.

“We are looking at the relationship between the characteristics of where people with diabetes live, such as green spaces, walkability, public transport availability and provision of food environment, and how these factors modify the success of diabetes management for preventing avoidable hospitalisations and emergency department presentations,” Dr Feng said.

The project aims to bolster collaborations with health policymakers and urban planners to improve the quality of neighbourhoods. “That will, in turn, support longer, healthier and happier lives for everyone living with diabetes in western Sydney and across Australia,” Dr Astell-Burt says.