New Zealanders are being urged to "stop turning a blind eye" to what's been described as the fastest-growing health crisis the country faces - diabetes - and for the Government to take action to tackle the epidemic that is costing the nation millions of dollars.

At the launch of its inaugural Diabetes Action Month campaign today, Diabetes New Zealand chief executive Steve Crew said it was time the country took steps to "remedy the appalling increase" in the condition.

The number of New Zealanders living with diabetes has doubled from 125,000 to 250,000 in the past 10 years, with 40 new diabetes diagnoses every day, the organisation said.

It estimated a further 1.1 million people have pre-diabetes and a high risk of developing the condition.

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"Diabetes places a great burden on families, communities and the country as a whole," Mr Crew said. "As a nation we pay our part through our taxes - we now need to play our part through our actions.

"Everyone is at risk of diabetes. One in four people is believed to have pre-diabetes. That's more than a million people, who in many cases, could prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes with a healthy lifestyle of nutritional eating and regular exercise. We all need to empower those people to make better lifestyle choices and support them as they make changes."

Diabetes Action Month aims to tackle the New Zealand diabetes epidemic by making the nation more aware of the risk factors, and urging people to take action.

"We are starting a movement, a campaign to support New Zealanders so they can live healthier lives," Mr Crew said. "We are all meant to move, so we want the country to 'Join the MoveMeant'."

As part of the campaign, Diabetes New Zealand today launched a range of initiatives, including an online risk awareness tool, a nationwide roadshow, and an national MoveMeant Day on November 28.

Signing up to join the MoveMeant - and committing to 10,000 steps a day - are former Silver Fern Irene van Dyk whose husband Christie has type 1 diabetes, cricketing legend Dipak Patel, international cricket and hockey player Sophie Devine who has diabetes, celebrity chef Michael van de Elzen, healthy eating advocate Niki Bezzant, and Prime Minister John Key's wife Bronagh.

"We are on a mission to improve the diabetes tally and combat the trend, one New Zealander at a time. Diabetes is New Zealand's issue - everyone is at risk of diabetes, and everyone can affect change," Mr Crew said.

• For more information and to #JointheMoveMeant, visit diabetes.org.nz/home or facebook.com/diabetesnz

WHAT IS DIABETES:

Diabetes is an enduring disease that occurs when the pancreas is no longer able to make insulin, or when the body cannot make good use of the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that acts like a key to let glucose from the food we eat pass from the blood stream into the cells in the body to produce energy. There are three main types of diabetes - type 1, type 2 and gestational.

Type 1 diabetes is usually caused by an auto-immune reaction where the body's defence system attacks the cells that produce insulin. People with type 1 diabetes produce very little or no insulin. People of any age can be affected, but it usually develops in children or young adults. People with type 1 diabetes need injections of insulin every day to control the levels of glucose in their blood.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for at least 90 per cent of all cases of diabetes. It can occur at any age and remain undetected for many years. Often people with type 2 diabetes can initially manage their condition through exercise and diet, however, over time some people will require oral drugs and or insulin.

Gestational diabetes occurs when a pregnant woman has high levels of glucose in her blood. Gestational diabetes is temporary and usually goes after pregnancy. However a woman who has had gestational diabetes has a 50-60 per cent increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

STATISTICS:

• The number of New Zealanders living with diabetes has doubled from 125,000 to 250,000 in the past 10 years. It is believed approximately 90 per cent of those new diagnoses are type 2.

• There are, on average, 40 new diabetes diagnoses every day in New Zealand.

• One in four (25 per cent) New Zealanders are estimated to have pre-diabetes.

• Everyone is risk of developing diabetes; however for some it's greater than others.

• In 2013, the highest rate of diabetes in New Zealand was in the Indian ethic group (11 per cent), followed by Pacific peoples (9.6 per cent).

• Maori are three times as likely to have type 2 diabetes as non-Maori, and are more likely to develop complications. Type 2 diabetes is increasingly occurring in Maori and Pacific children under the age of 15.

• In 2008 the estimated direct cost for type 2 diabetes was $600 million per year. The forecast cost of diabetes was predicted to rise from $600 million in 2006/07 to $920 million in 2011/12, $1,310 million in 2016/17 and $1,770 million in 2021/22.

• A person's risk of progressing from pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes can be roughly halved if they lose weight, change their diet, increase exercise and/or have drug treatment.

Source: Diabetes New Zealand