Tue | Aug 14, 2018

Editorial: Diabetes dilemma

Published:Saturday | April 9, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Diabetes is not a new disease. Commonly called 'sugar' by laymen, it has been around for a long time. Current medical evidence suggests that this disease will continue to be a significant public-health threat well into the 21st century. Indeed, the increase in diabetes diagnoses worldwide has been described as explosive.

The dynamics of 'sugar' has changed over the years. For example, it is no longer considered an adult onset disease because of rising rates of childhood cases. Once it was viewed as a disease of affluence, it is now common among all income brackets.

Complications of diabetes can cause heart attack, stroke, blindness, and limb amputation. Fittingly, the World Health Organization (WHO) turned the spotlight on diabetes this year in response to the alarming news that the number of adults living with the disease has quadrupled since 1980 to a staggering 422 million. There is concern that many more remain undiagnosed.

According to WHO's global profile, nearly 12 per cent of the Jamaican population is affected by diabetes. More than 58 per cent of the population is said to be overweight, and 27 per cent fall into the obese category. In its call for action, the WHO director general, Dr Margaret Chan, said: "If we are to make any headway in halting the rise in diabetes, we need to rethink our daily lives: to eat healthily, be physically active and avoid excessive weight gain."

It is well researched and documented that diet and lifestyle play key roles in one's health, and that being overweight is a significant risk factor for diabetes. Additionally, the cultural love affair with food ensures that individuals partake of hefty portions of calorie-laden, fatty foods at every sitting. There is no denying that the national diet presents a delicious cast of villains, and, if not taken in moderation, could have serious implications for one's well-being.




So after decades of preaching the message of moderation, healthy diets and weight management, are the local health advocates and medics satisfied that the message is getting across? Judging by the increase in number of persons with diabetes, it appears not.

In this discussion on diabetes, there is another factor to consider. Recent research has found that certain classes of drugs used to treat lifestyle diseases such as hypertension are, in fact, putting patients at risk for diabetes. It has been confirmed that side effects of diabetes are beginning to show up in thousands of persons who take these statins. But it also relates to lifestyle.

The public-health costs for treating these diseases, with the complications they present, are astounding. Diabetes has reached crisis proportions and affects all Jamaicans, directly or indirectly.

The call to action issued by the WHO must now have all stakeholders thinking about new initiatives that must be put in place to address this public-health dilemma. One of the Sustainable Development Goals set out in the 2014 UN General Assembly, to which Jamaica is committed, is to address diabetes and other non-communicable diseases by achieving a 30 per cent reduction by 2030.

WHO's global plan called on countries to adopt measures such as increasing taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks, regulating advertising of unhealthy foods to children, and insisting that food labels warn of excess salt, sugar or fat, in order to promote healthy eating.

Mexico is being praised by WHO for showing global leadership by increasing taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, which resulted in a six per cent reduction in consumption in one year. In CARICOM, Barbados and Dominica have followed suit. Will Jamaica be next?