Although some physicians in the twenties and thirties expressed concern about the rising number of people with diabetes, the public health’s focus was on safe water and comprehensive sewage systems. Many believed that diabetes was a disease of the upper classes and it was the physicians who needed to be educated, instead of the general public.
In 1985, the World Health Organization estimated there to be 30 million people in the world with diabetes, the vast majority with Type 2 diabetes. Today the World Health Organization estimates that more than 346 million people worldwide have diabetes. This number is predicted to more than double by 2030.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month and 14 November is World Diabetes Day and also the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, the physician who discovered insulin. Countries around the world use November as a global opportunity to raise awareness of this devastating disease.
In the 1920’s Type 2 diabetes was a disease affecting the elderly.
For years it was referred to as adult onset diabetes. However, tragically we are now seeing greater numbers of young people diagnosed with this deadly disease. A recent paediatric journal suggests that 23 per cent of US teenagers have diabetes, which equates to one in four young people under the age of twenty in the United States.
So why are so many young people being diagnosed with diabetes? The answer is simple- they are becoming overweight and obese.
What is the answer? Move more and eat less. That simple you say? Yes, that simple. Today’s teenagers are not getting the exercise they need and many are not doing the required hour of physical activity a day.
They are too busy on their phones, computers, or watching television. In addition they are eating high fat, supersized meals and not eating fruits and vegetables. One teenager recently told me that “she does not do vegetables!”
Diabetes is responsible for new cases of kidney disease, blindness, lower limb amputations, heart attacks and strokes.
Many of these complications take decades to show up. If you are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at age 70, you may reach 90 before you have any complications. If, however, you are diagnosed at age 16, you may end up with complications at age 26 and die before you reach your 40th birthday.
So what can be done? Teenagers have to get off the couch and start exercising. They should be encouraged to drink water rather than sugary sweet drinks and to eat vegetables again!! Parents need to set an example.
It’s no good if parents tell teenagers to start exercising and to eat healthier when parents are couch potatoes and eat unhealthy fast foods. Use this November as an opportunity for change. Change the way you and your family eat and do more exercise.
Visit the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital lobby on 14 November between 10am and 2pm to learn more about preventing Type 2 diabetes and to assess your risk factors.
Debbie Jones is currently a vice president of the International Diabetes Federation and a diabetes nurse educator at the Bermuda Hospitals Board’s Diabetes Education Centre. She writes a monthly diabetes column for the Bermuda Sun to help educate people about one of the island’s biggest killers.