Māori and Pacific people more vulnerable to diseases of pancreas

20 February 2017
Max Petrov
Dr Max Petrov

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of acute pancreatitis in the world with Māori and Pacific people at more than double the risk of developing pancreatitis and post-pancreatitis diabetes than New Zealand Europeans.

A nationwide study on the frequency of inflammatory diseases of the pancreas (such as acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis) and post-pancreatitis diabetes mellitus, showed that the New Zealand risk is twice that of Western Europe and has nearly doubled over the past decade.

The New Zealand rate is at the higher end of the global spectrum with an incidence of 58.4 per 100,000 people per year for acute pancreatitis, says leader of the University of Auckland based COSMOS Group, senior lecturer, Dr Max Petrov.

The study was published in the latest issue of the NZ Medical Journal.

Dr Petrov says recent evidence shows that nearly 40 percent of patients develop new-onset prediabetes or diabetes after just one attack of acute pancreatitis.

“Patients with acute pancreatitis have more than twice the risk of developing new-onset diabetes after acute pancreatitis than people in the general population,” he says.

The researchers found that Māori people have the highest incidence of acute pancreatitis reported in the world literature (95.2 per 100,000 per year), and Māori and Pacific people are more than two to three times more likely to develop pancreatitis and post-pancreatitis diabetes mellitus than New Zealand Europeans of the same age and sex.

Pancreatitis demographics
Incidence of post-pancreatitis diabetes mellitus.

“The incidence rates of acute and chronic pancreatitis, as well as post-pancreatitis diabetes mellitus, were determined using data from nearly three million individuals living in New Zealand,” says Dr Petrov.

“Although research on pancreatitis was previously conducted in New Zealand, it was limited to single-hospital studies and was under-representative of minorities - especially Māori and Pacific people.”

An earlier epidemiological study by COSMOS, published in The Lancet, on the global burden of diseases of the exocrine pancreas showed that population-based data on diseases of the pancreas are available for every region in the world, except Africa and Australasia.

“This study puts New Zealand on the global map of epidemiological research in diseases of the pancreas and it is also the first study worldwide to report on frequency of post-pancreatitis diabetes mellitus in the general population,” he says.

“This is important as these diseases have both a large social impact and considerable economic burden,” says Dr Petrov.

“High quality clinical and epidemiological research on these diseases in New Zealand is of paramount importance in order to develop treatment strategies that would benefit more than 50,000 New Zealanders every year who develop pancreatitis or post-pancreatitis diabetes, and particularly Māori and Pacific people who are worst affected,” he says.

  • The COSMOS (Clinical and epidemiOlogical inveStigations in Metabolism, nutritiOn, and pancreatic diseaseS) group was founded in 2012 and is hosted at the University of Auckland’s School of Medicine. It aims to bring order to common disorders of the exocrine and endocrine pancreas for the benefit of patients worldwide. The focus is on applied clinical and epidemiological research at the interfaces between pancreatic diseases, metabolic derangements, nutrition and gut function. 


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