Home African Caribbean Diabetes Awareness Week 12th – 18th June 2023

Diabetes Awareness Week 12th – 18th June 2023

by Tony Kelly
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As someone who is in the privileged position  on a regular basis of being able to write for www.CaribDirect.com    an online publication,  it would be remiss of me not to use this opportunity to highlight in Britain the annual Diabetes  Week which runs this year from 12th – 18th June.  This is not to be confused with National Diabetes Prevention Week which is always the end of  May, or November’s  Diabetes Awareness Month since its inception in  1975.  I also make mention of the 14th November which is  World Diabetes Day, the birthdate of Canadian medical scientist Sir Frederick Banting who discovered artificial or synthetic insulin in 1921 along with his French medical student Charles Best after injecting a concoction they made into a meagre dog which gained weight.

Throughout my diabetes journey over the last 11 years  as a diabetes champion/ambassador/activist and someone living with type 2 diabetes without ever taking any medication since diagnosis nearly 19 years ago,  I  still hear a lot of people refer to this medical condition, diabetes  as  ‘a touch of sugar’. This  amounts to minimizing/trivializing what is indeed a serious medical condition.  Only recently Diabetes UK the well-known charity revealed the latest stats of people living with diabetes  in Britain is a record 5 million and rising.  There is a possible further million people unaware that they have it because of not having the necessary urine or blood test to confirm their diagnosis.  In the same way most motor vehicle owners have their vehicle tested on a regular basis to make sure it is road worthy, bearing in mind even if it is the most expensive car, it is still metal or junk, surely one’s body is far more important in the grand scheme of  life and should warrant health checks at least once a year.  Simply put which is more important the car or your body?

Some people  like to ask which is more serious, type 1 or type 2 diabetes. For clarity,  type 1 which has nothing to do with lifestyle, ethnicity, size or age happens when for no apparent reason the pancreas  stops working and therefore no insulin is being produced hence having to inject insulin up to three times per day in the tummy/belly as  without insulin one cannot survive. Some insulin users prefer to have a  pump strapped to their body which slowly releases the required dosage.  So, for clarity both types of diabetes are equally serious if not managed properly. 90% of people with diabetes have type 2,  8% have type one and 2% have rarer types one of which is gestational diabetes in some women only whilst pregnant and it disappears after the birth of the  newborn.  However, those mothers are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes in later life as are their offspring.

In terms of ethnicity, Black people tend to develop type 2 diabetes 15 years earlier that white people at age 25 due mainly to their DNA/genetics/metabolism. Environmental factors also play a part.

Type 2 diabetes can be hereditary, age, lifestyle (lack of physical activity and poor diet) overweight, whilst in some cases a thin or slim person can develop it because the fat in their body surrounds the liver and the pancreas. It must be acknowledged that some people with diabetes are prescribed other forms of medication in order to control their blood glucose levels and only under medical supervision should they stop taking what has been prescribed.

In Britain one is able to check whether they are at risk of getting diabetes by visiting the  Diabetes UK https://riskscore.diabetes.org.uk/start  and if in the medium or high-risk category,  will be signposted  to join one of the NHS –  National Diabetes Prevention Programmes  online or in person with others in  a similar situation. Over 2,690,533 have checked their diabetes risk by putting in all the relevant information of whom many have signed up and completed the course. Of course referrals from GPs are also done.

The pancreas a six-inch gland situated from the navel  on one side of the body which in some communities is commonly  referred to as the  belly button  produces the hormone insulin which regulates all  the food/liquids  consumed.  The four classic symptoms of type 2 diabetes are commonly referred to as the 4 ‘T’s: tired, toilet, thirsty and thinner. There are too,  slow healing of cuts/wounds and blurred vision.  The complications if ones’ diabetes is not managed/controlled properly are strokes,  blindness, heart attacks/failures, kidney/renal failure,  lower limb amputations and ultimately premature death or as is often said in the Caribbean ‘gawn too soon’.  All are preventable by way of a healthy well-balanced diet and physical activity or movement. I never use the word exercise in any diabetes awareness presentations as it conjures up images of wanting people to go to the gym  when activities such as cleaning the windows, fast paced-walking,  mowing the lawn, gardening, dancing, climbing the stairs instead of using the lift/elevator and escalator and in essence moving more can indeed make a difference in terms of burning up the calories and reducing the blood glucose/blood sugar that is stored in the human body if the pancreas is not working as effectively as it should.  So, leading a sedentary/couch potato lifestyle is at all cost to be avoided and the more active one is the better for ones physical and indeed mental health. 

Especially in the Caribbean, parts of Asia and South America it is now the mango season and for  those who love this wonderful fruit which has several redeeming qualities, remember after eating many as I know what that is like as a mango lover (addictive)  one MUST do some movement after ‘filling yuh belly’.  Do remember too that all carbohydrates (starchy food) which are  needed for energy, break down in the body into glucose/sugar and therefore portion sizes are important.

In 2021  according to the International Diabetes Federation it was estimated that 537 million people worldwide had diabetes and 6.7 million died that year from diabetes related causes.  Another alarming statistic is that  currently every 8 seconds someone in the world dies from diabetes complications. The projected diabetes figures worldwide are expected to rise to 643  million by 2030 and to 783 million by 2045.  In Britain every two minutes someone is diagnosed with this medical condition.  The information  in this paragraph alone  gives a true picture of  why this medical condition is not just ‘a touch of sugar’.

One more sobering thought to leave with the readers is that diabetes can remain undetected  in your body  for up to ten years doing damage and  presenting no signs or symptoms alluded to earlier. My plea therefore is to reiterate the importance of regular health checks with health care professionals.

Most GPs surgeries in Britain now offer what is referred to as social prescribing, as an alternative to prescribed medication for some but not all patients. This is paid for  from the GPs budget  in the form of an activity such as swimming, Aquarobics, Pilates, yoga,  line dancing to name but a few for the patient to choose after consultation with a social prescriber based  in the health practice. It is aimed at getting people fitter, healthier and less dependent on medication if possible. I urge readers to ask their health care professional about social prescribing.

Finally, more diabetes champions, activists and ambassadors are also needed worldwide to help spread the health and well-being message so wherever you are,  why not seriously consider making enquiries to play your part as a volunteer as you might make a real difference? I have been on this journey for 11 years  visiting many places in England as well as abroad with others in the pipeline, so do try to get involved as this has been my passion since early retirement and it is rewarding, fulfilling and enjoyed immensely.

Tony Kelly

Tony Kelly

London born Tony Kelly of Jamaican parents grew up in Jamaica and returned to live in Birmingham in 1979.
He is a graduate of Mico Teachers’ College and taught in Kingston high schools prior to working for 30+ years as a middle manager in central and local government with an emphasis on equity, equality, diversity and inclusion. He has a masters’ degree in socio-legal studies from the university of Birmingham.
For over a decade Tony has volunteered as a diabetes ambassador firstly for Diabetes UK and now for the National Health Service – Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group. A multi-award winner doing a yearly average of 150 health and well-being events, locally, nationally and internationally focusing on type 2 diabetes. He was diagnosed with this medical condition 18 years ago. However with a combination of physical activity and diet he has never taken medication thus proving with the right mindset and discipline it can be achieved.
As a diabetes advocate/activist Tony will continue delivering the message of healthy options to readers of CaribDirect.com .


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