If current trends are allowed to continue, type 2 diabetes and associated complications such as kidney failure, blindness and lower limb amputation, will threaten the sustainability of the Australian health system.
A determination to help prevent such an outcome is the driving force behind the research of an emerging national expert in public and population health, Dr Xiaoqi Feng.
Feng leads research and teaching at UOW that is focused on how local health service provision and the built environment – the availability of parks and fast food in neighbourhoods, for example – influence the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.
Her research has been published in prestigious journals, such as the Medical Journal of Australia, Diabetes Care, and the International Journal of Obesity, and is making an impact internationally.
Graduating with her PhD just three years ago, Feng is establishing a stellar academic record in her field, with more than 50 publications in total and a further 14 currently under review.
Feng’s research is attracting significant funding – she was one of only 12 National Heart Foundation of Australia Postdoctoral Fellows nationally for 2015 and is a key member of a National Health and Medical Research Council Project Grant research team investigating the interplay between local built environments and clinical management of type 2 diabetes.
Her work is also had real world impact. Presentations of her research to policy makers in the NSW Parliament, to doctors and health service managers at the Western Sydney Local Health District, and to urban planners was instrumental in the development of the Western Sydney Diabetes Prevention and Management Initiative.
As part of this initiative, Feng and her public health research colleagues conducted a study to investigate the impact of routine diabetes testing in Blacktown Emergency Department. A total of 1,267 people were tested over a six-week period; 38 per cent of those tested had diabetes. Nearly one-third of that percentage did not know they had the condition.
These dramatic results have led to real change, with all patients at Blacktown and Mount Druitt Emergency Departments now receiving free diabetes testing.
For Feng, this is just the start.
Dr Feng is also co-leading a 5 year ($3.2M) research project entitled 'Greener Cities Healthier Lives'.
“I see my ongoing role at Wollongong to be a social catalyst for building a fairer, healthier society,” she said.