A big increase in the number of Bay people being diagnosed with diabetes has been labelled a ticking time bomb by a health advocate.
More than 16 people a week are diagnosed with diabetes in the Tauranga and Whakatane area, and the figure was projected to become much worse in years to come.
Ministry of Health figures show 11,130 people were diagnosed with diabetes as of December 2012. The figure was up 8.2 per cent on the 10,281 people diagnosed in 2011, which was itself up 8 per cent on 2010.
Diabetes New Zealand president Chris Baker said the country was in the midst of an epidemic and the figures showed the country was headed towards disaster.
"This has been happening cumulatively for several years and each year the base number is bigger, so more and more people every year are being diagnosed. It's a huge concern," she said.
The number of type 2 diabetics represented about 90 per cent of the total figures and was often the result of poor diet and exercise.
Diabetes was the leading cause of blindness, non-trauma amputation and heart attacks in New Zealand.
"We are absolutely a ticking time bomb," Ms Baker said.
Other factors such as ethnicity heightened a person's chance of developing type 2 diabetes. But the age of people being diagnosed was dropping.
Ms Baker said without more awareness and education, diabetes would overwhelm New Zealand.
"This is not just a health problem. It affects employers, town planners, it's a multi-sector responsibility but in terms of getting people to accept that responsibility, we have barely gotten off first base."
Tauranga healthy eating advocate Leigh Elder, who runs an Eat for Keeps programme, said there was an over-reliance on medication to treat diabetes rather than a strong focus on diet and exercise.
He is due to launch a national programme designed to help teach some of the critical food and life skills, following on from his book The Eat For Keeps Experience.
Te Puna woman Lynlie Mills, who no longer needs insulin injections after changing her diet and exercise routine, agreed with Mr Elder.
"Think of going back to my parents' day of eating, that's how we should be eating." she said.
Health Minister and Bay of Plenty MP Tony Ryall said diabetes was one of New Zealand's fastest-growing long-term conditions and $35.5 million from Budget 2013 was put into health services aimed at preventing or treating diabetes.
This included doubling funding to $7.2 million over the next four years for Green Prescriptions and providing $12.4 million to expand local diabetes programmes.
No one from the Bay of Plenty District Health Board was available to comment before publication.