November 14, 2012

Let's talk about diabetes

Today is World Diabetes Day - a day dedicated to raising awareness on this deadly disease which is rampant in the developing world. 

Though I myself am lucky enough not to have to worry about my blood sugar, there are tens of thousands of Barbadians who do. This disease is poisoning my little island paradise and it's not just our problem.

The latest research from the World Health Organisation states that 346 million people worldwide have diabetes and more than 80% of diabetes deaths occur in low- and middle-income countriesType 2 diabetes comprises 90% of people with diabetes around the world, resulting from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.  Although there is a small percentage of people with a strong genetic predisposition, Type 2 diabetes is largely the result of excess body weight and physical inactivityThat's a crazy amount of people dying from a disease that can be prevented with a healthier diet, regular physical activity and maintaining a normal body weight.  Type 1 Diabetes is a different story because the cause of Type 1 is unknown and there isn't a cure for it - yet. 

Unfortunately, it's the poorer countries that are being affected the most and are putting a huge financial burden on governments. Estimates show a direct cost of US$ 10.7 billion (!) in Latin America and the Caribbean. (Image what could be done with that money?! Read more on costs in this WHO report here.)
Not to mention other health complications; hundreds of limbs being chopped off every year, people going blind and dying of strokes & other cardiovascular diseases which are all a direct result of a disease that has been poorly managed. I could go on and on and get the picture - It's pretty grim.
The problem in tackling this is that diabetes isn't a 'sexy' disease & if you don't know someone who has it, it's difficult to relate to. Unfortunately it also takes long term lifestyle changes to be implemented for the effects to be noticed. There is no instant solution; you can't have a healthy lunch, quit smoking or refuse alcohol & think "My chances of developing Type 2 diabetes just decreased by 0.2% - yippee!" It doesn't work like that. 
Being healthy is a lifestyle choice and the positive choices you make today are a smart part of a healthier lifestyle in the long run. 
It really bothers me that something like this is happening in a world where the resources are more than readily available to the majority of us and yet there are way too many people who don't understand that their lifestyle choices and behavior today could have serious implications for their health in the future. We need to be educated on the little things; drinking a glass of water over a coke, going for a nice walk a few times a week, putting more fruit and vegetables on our dinner plate and opting for less sugar in our coffee. Our relationship and understanding of food needs to change gradually in order for this to work.

I went to high school with a Type 1 diabetic who is harnessing her condition to educate others. Krystal Boyea is the embodiment of a powerful woman; intelligent, determined, athletic, outspoken, charismatic & feminine. She's showed her peers what it is to be in control of something and uses it to bring about positive change: she really makes you think "Go girl!" She's awesome and she's a champion for young diabetics around the world, doing amazing things like speaking at the UN about living with diabetes and representing North America and the Caribbean as a Youth Ambassador. Though her condition was not developed like Type 2 diabetes, Krystal has to be in control of her body every single second of the day since being diagnosed at age 11; watching what she eats, monitoring her blood sugar levels & researching what it is she's eating before she puts it into her body.

My question is, if someone like Krystal can manage to do this to the extreme, why can't the rest of us be more conscious of what we eat  on a daily basis?

The solution to preventing Type 2 diabetes is changing behavior through education. Pure and simple. 
There are so many great initiatives in Barbados and around the world which aim to do just this; Be The Change BarbadosThe Healthy Caribbean CoalitionJamie Oliver's Food Revolution and Thought for Food, to name a few. By joining in on these causes, spreading the love and sharing ideas you're already helping a worldwide problem with a simple step. 
It takes understanding and education to live a healthier lifestyle and if that means making something like diabetes seem 'sexier' and more relevant  then so be it. Our generation is already proving that we can work together for a brighter future so let's talk about this and empower others to make better choices. 

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