We are in a type 2 diabetes epidemic. While we have focused on COVID, we have not given the same attention to diabetes.
Every November the International Diabetes Federation hosts World Diabetes Day and this year the theme is improve access to diabetes care.
There are many factors that contribute to the rise of type 2 diabetes globally, but mostly it is related to a fundamental shift in our food, exercise and social environment:
- Age and human over-population: There are more of us and we live longer and type 2 diabetes increases as we age. Human overpopulation has resulted in a massive movement into cities in Canada and across the world and taken us away from our rural routes and connection to growing our own food and the natural world.
- People weigh more: We drink juice, soft drinks and other sugared drinks instead of water when we are thirsty. Even in rural villages of Africa or Mexico, bottled pop is pervasive. Sudan has the world’s third highest prevalence of type 2 diabetes. We eat at home less and we eat more processed and restaurant high-fat and high-sugar food.
- Modernization and loss of positive social connectedness: We sit in front of screens for long hours every day. We used to walk or bicycle daily, now we get around by car, truck, moped, train or transit. Corporations have enormous opportunities to advertise through technology (TV, internet to social media) to influence the way we live and think. Type 2 diabetes increases when the person as a child had violent or negative experiences, what is termed Adverse Childhood Experiences, often associated with poverty, racism, unemployment and low education.
We often speak of things the individual could do: eat less and move more. It’s true, we all have a responsibility to look after ourselves the best we can. Yet does the system support people enough to make changes? What more could the government do? Diabetes rates keep going up, so clearly our current approach needs to change.
Here are some public health steps that could help to slow down the type 2 diabetes epidemic:
- Consistent diabetes screening to identify prediabetes before it develops into diabetes.
- Broad-scale education programs and educational resources and support.
- Provision of optimal care for patients and free heart and diabetes medications.
- Address the social and community factors that increase people’s risk for the disease.
For more information on public health steps, see Diabetes Canada’s framework for a National Diabetes Strategy.
Listen to Karen Graham’s podcast interview where she talks about the food and built environment and the global diabetes epidemic.
What do you think needs to be done by government to fight the type 2 diabetes epidemic?
Check out Karen’s other article for Silver: What you need to know about prediabetes
Author: Karen Graham. Karen is a Canadian Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with 40 years of work experience. She has three best-selling diabetes books co-authored with American endocrinologist Dr. Mansur Shomali. These books have sold almost half a million copies and include: Diabetes Essentials, Diabetes Meals for Good Health Cookbook and Complete Diabetes Guide (2020 editions).