As Barbados joined today’s observation of World Diabetes Day, there came powerful reminders that the quality of our health is heavily determined by our daily choices.
The prevalence of diabetes here reveals damning evidence that we have been falling woefully short in making the right choices, even with a barrage of information at our fingertips on living well.
According to the United Nations, more than 420 million people suffer from diabetes, a chronic condition that is treatable and preventable.
Worldwide, the incidence of diabetes has nearly doubled since 1980, rising from 4.7 per cent to 8.5 per cent in adults, said the UN.
And the disease continues to rise faster in low and middle-income countries when compared to high-income countries.
Barbados is smack dab in the middle of this health crisis. All of us have a family member, friend, colleague or neighbour coping with diabetes or know someone who has died from the complications of the disease.
Research here shows that almost one in five adult Barbadians is a diabetic. Half of our over-65s are diabetic.
The disease we have euphemistically called “sugar” is one of the leading causes of hospitalisation and medical treatment.
It’s estimated that the annual cost of treating a patient with diabetes is approximately $1,880 per year.
Still, many of us continue to ignore the repeated warnings, even though we know that diabetes is largely a lifestyle disease.
For too many of us, food comes first and foremost. We gorge on high quantities of sweetened, processed, high-calorie imported foods and drinks.
Hence, as is the custom every World Diabetes Day, advocates must drive home the message that we have to change our lifestyles to avoid becoming a sufferer from this debilitating disease.
There is really no excuse not to heed the advice and take the right action.
Medical experts say adults with diabetes have a two-to three-fold increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. The disease is also among the leading causes of kidney failure and can lead to blindness and amputation.
Diabetes, then, is no easy disease to suffer from. This misery can stretch on for years. The good news is that simple lifestyle changes can help prevent or delay the onset of type-2 diabetes, the type that is acquired from lifestyle and which ravages our majority black population.
Here’s what you can do:
Achieve and maintain healthy body weight;
Be physically active – at least 30 minutes of regular, moderate-intensity activity on most days;
Eat a healthy diet, avoiding sugar and saturated fats intake; and avoid tobacco use – smoking increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Action is not only needed by individuals but by the entire community in a comprehensive approach.
Government, which has been grappling with the rising cost of health care driven by diabetes and other non–communicable diseases, has a vested interest in reducing the prevalence of this disease.
There have been repeated calls for Government to ban the introduction of sugar-sweetened drinks in schools in a bid to curb the growing problem of childhood obesity. The time has passed for action.
In addition to improving access to good quality health care for diabetics, including affordable medication, Government can help to keep the disease at bay by ensuring that fresh, healthy food is available and affordable. There is no denying that the price of healthy foods in Barbados is still beyond the reach of too many citizens while the very foods that lend to unhealthy diets are cheaper and more readily available.
The authorities need also to create safer public spaces to encourage citizens to engage in exercise and enjoy the Great Outdoors.
But let’s not wait for Government to do for us what we must all do for ourselves, our families and our friends – take greater responsibility for our actions in our food and beverage intake and our physical activity output, one day leading to a diabetes-free Barbados.