South Africa is fast becoming an overweight nation, which is causing an increase in type 2 diabetes, says Dr Zane Stevens, a specialist physician and endocrinologist practising at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town.
“Diabetes is an absolute epidemic. It is probably one of the most important health issues the world is facing at the moment, and it is driven by the parallel pandemic of obesity.”
November is Diabetes Awareness Month but for thousands of South Africans the disease remains undiagnosed for years. In the process their elevated blood sugar levels gradually damage their eyesight, kidneys, nerves and circulation, thereby putting them at risk of stroke and heart attack, according to Dr Stevens.
One of the reasons this medical condition goes undetected is a lack of routine screenings. If the disease is diagnosed early and managed properly, the chances of the sufferer developing complications later in life are much slimmer.
“It is really important that once diagnosed, the patient is actively managed, in combination with the necessary treatment and lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of complications developing over time.”
Symptoms of both types 1 and 2 diabetes include fatigue, persistent thirst, slow-healing wounds, weight loss, blurred vision, a frequent need to urinate, and thrush or genital itching.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The body destroys its own insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body’s cells to absorb glucose, which provides the energy we need to function. In type 2, the ability of the body to produce insulin diminishes over time.
Dr Stevens says in South Africa the prevalence varies between population groups. The Indian population, for example, has a strong genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes, and up to 10% of individuals in this population group is affected by it, while the average is between 5 and 6% percent for the population in general.
In type 2 diabetes, the body starts to become resistant to insulin, usually because of weight gain. As populations worldwide move from rural to urban areas, they become more sedentary and their diets tend to become unhealthier.
South Africans are not trailing the rest of the world in being overweight or obese, says Dr Stevens.
“The prevalence of obesity, as defined by a body mass index over 30, in South African females is probably even slightly higher than in American females, proportionate to the population size. So we certainly are a heavy nation and this is what is driving the increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes.”
More effort needs to be made by individuals to ensure that they exercise and eat healthy. The overweight children of today become the overweight adults of tomorrow, and they are at risk of developing the disease.
Dr Stevens and his colleague, vascular surgeon Dr Hristo Boytchev, will give talks on diabetes in the Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital auditorium on November 25, between 12h00 and 13h00. There will also be free blood glucose screening, counselling, and dietary advice between 11h00 and 15h00.
For free glucose-screening consultations contact Michelle on 021-480-6125.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville, Thomas Hartleb or Devereaux Morkel
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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