NGOs combat diabetes in urban centres

 By Dr. Cory Couillard 

The prevalence of diabetes is skyrocketing throughout the world, ranking it as one of the greatest public health threats in the 21st century. Even more alarming, global statistics indicate that one in two people with diabetes don’t know they have it.

In response, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) has partnered with the European Connected Health Alliance (ECHAlliance) to increase diabetic awareness and designate cities throughout the country as ‘diabetes aware’.

This innovative partnership, similar to the World Health Organisation’s ‘Age Friendly Cities’, is creating a network of ‘diabetes aware’ cities using mobile health tools to promote diabetes awareness and support.

A “diabetes aware” city will be able to demonstrate not only knowledge of the condition but also how people can reduce their risk of developing diabetes. Examples may include providing proper nutritional information in restaurants or ensuring green spaces are safe and accessible for people to improve physical activity levels.

“People in urban areas will be particularly vulnerable. Socially and economically this diabetes epidemic will be very costly. It is important that we find new ways of working across all sectors to provide people with targeted information on healthier lifestyle options,” says Dr Petra Wilson, IDF’s Chief Executive.

Diabetes is often a condition that develops silently over many years but statistics indicate that 80 per cent of diabetes is preventable. Preventing diabetes is often achieved through maintaining a healthy body weight, engaging in sufficient levels of physical activity, eating a well-balanced diet, and avoiding substances of abuse such as alcohol and tobacco.

Physical activity is one of the most important aspects in maintaining a healthy body weight and preventing Type 2 diabetes. Maintaining one’s body weight improves insulin control, keeps blood sugar in check and reduces harmful cholesterol and blood pressure that are often linked to life threatening complications.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults aged 65 and above do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week.

Unhealthy diets, especially the excessive consumption of energy, saturated fat, trans fat, salt and sugar could cause at least 40 per cent of all deaths related to diabetes. To prevent or reverse diabetes – reduce sugar intake, processed food items, portion size and increase consumption of vegetables.

Smoking can also promote the development of diabetes by at least 30 per cent. Smoking is one of the leading causes of inflammation, scarring of the arteries and atherosclerosis – leading risk factors for heart disease, stroke and premature death.

The symptoms of Type 2 diabetes can include increased thirst, hunger, frequent urination, excessive fatigue and blurred vision. Other symptoms may include bladder, kidney or other infections that occur more frequent or heal slowly. It is also common for men to experience erectile dysfunction.

Diabetes is also the leading cause of blindness; it damages nerves as well as hardens arteries that can lead to decreased sensation and poor blood circulation in the feet and hands. These factors will increase the risk of infections and ulcers that can in turn significantly raise the risk of amputations.

Historically, diabetes has been associated with ageing but new estimates show an increasing trend towards younger and younger people developing diabetes. This highlights the importance of becoming ‘diabetes aware’ and providing educational opportunities in schools.

Dr Couillard is an international health columnist that works in collaboration with the World Health Organization’s goals of disease prevention and control. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.

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