World diabetes day on November 14

    ARE our unhealthy lifestyles making us more prone to developing type 2 diabetes? The answer seems to be an unequivocal yes.  A staggering 44% of the global diabetes burden can be attributed to the global burden of obesity.

    According to the National Department of Health, more than half of South African Women are overweight or obese, with the statistic for black women being as high as 60%. Obesity and its co-morbidities, including diabetes, negatively affects the lives of many South Africans as well as places an enormous burden  on the cost of healthcare, both in the public and private sectors.

    The bottom line is that obesity is preventable. World Diabetes Day takes place on November 14, and the theme this year is ‘Women and Diabetes – our right to a healthy future’. There are currently over 199 million women living with diabetes. This total is expected to increase to 313 million by 2040.

    Some of the risk factors for developing diabetes includes:

    • Being aged 35 or over
    • Being overweight (especially if you carry most of your weight around your middle)
    • Being a member of a high-risk group (in South Africa if you are of Indian descent you are at particular risk).
    • Having a family history of diabetes
    • Having given birth to a baby that weighed over 4kg at birth, or have had gestational diabetes during pregnancy
    • Having high cholesterol or other fats in the blood
    • Having high blood pressure or heart disease

    Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Symptoms of diabetes includes unusual thirst, frequent urination, unusual weight loss, extreme fatigue or lack of energy, blurred vision, frequent or recurring infections and slow healing cuts and bruises, and tingling in the hands and feet. Unfortunately, many people with type 2 diabetes show no symptoms!

    The good news is that up to 70% of cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle.

    Keeping a healthy weight is important. The Diabetes Prevention Programme, an initiative of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, found that weight loss and increased physical activity reduced the chance of prediabetes turning into type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. For people 60 years or older, the reduction was 71 percent. For overweight people, losing five to seven percent of body weight through exercise and healthy eating could prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes altogether.

    The relationship between obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes has been long-recognized, more specifically the fact that obesity leads to the development of insulin resistance.

    Dr Albert Niemann, a physician with a special interest in obesity, explains that having insulin resistance precedes the development of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance is part of the metabolic syndrome, and is caused by both lifestyle and genetic factors.  Dr Niemann says that the pancreas produces more insulin and the body’s cells become resistant to the effect of insulin.

    Managing insulin resistance, Niemann says, should involve limiting carbohydrates, avoiding sweetened beverages, eating more fibre, limiting portions, including enough protein, including fat free dairy products and in so doing reducing a person’s visceral or central body fat. Regular and sustained exercise is also vital. His advice to people who need to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight is to speak to their healthcare practitioner.

    He says that unfortunately, research shows that 85% of people globally will regain all their weight back within the first year. Maintenance is key. Dr Niemann further recommends using a diet guideline and regular follow ups.

    The British Medical Bulletin as far back as ten years ago published research findings that indicated that a weight loss of more than 9kg in women is associated with a 25% reduction in causes of mortality, which includes diabetes. Go to to calculate your Body Mass Index and the possible risk that your weight may have on your future health.

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