Currently World Health Organization (WHO) figures suggest that there are over 420 million people affected by type II diabetes around the world. Africa and other developing countries are facing the highest rates of increase in the epidemic. The number of people living with diabetes in Africa is predicted to increase by 140% by the year 2040. Developing countries also face the highest death rates from diabetes complications. The number of deaths globally from diabetes exceeded the combined death from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 2015.
Diverse ethnicities are being affected in South Africa, with the highest prevalence of diabetes in the Asian and Coloured populations.
Why the focus on women and diabetes?
In modern times women find themselves caught in an environment that promotes obesity and risk of diabetes. It is becoming increasingly difficult to practice healthy choices in lifestyle due to unnecessary demands we have created in a very stressful society. While the impetus is on us to change that environment, poor diet, lack of exercise, stress and job strain all contribute to the risk of developing diabetes and and its complications.
Women remain the epicenter of functional society. Mothers, professionals, partners, caregivers, educators, their roles are manifold – women are the source of empathy in society and protection of their health becomes pivotal for a society to function optimally.
There are currently over 199 million women living with diabetes. Two out of every five women with diabetes are of reproductive age, accounting for over 60 million women worldwide.
Women with type 2 diabetes are almost 10 times more likely to have coronary heart disease than women without the condition and women with type 1 diabetes have an increased risk of early miscarriage or having a baby with malformations.
Women and girls are key agents in the adoption of healthy lifestyles to improve the health and wellbeing of future generations.
It has been shown that 70% of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. Women, as mothers, have a huge influence over the long-term health status of their children. This is of critical importance. Changing food environments at home helps children make better choices during their formative years. Eating healthy at a young age has an impact on health long term. The risk of cognitive dysfunction, fertility problems and future weight problems can largely be reduced with early healthy eating habits.
Few parents know that the consumption of as little as two sugar sweetened beverages (2 cans of soft drink) a week has been shown to increase the risk of diabetes by as much as 42 %.
The definition of ‘food’ is any substance that is ingested that promotes growth and well being. Anything that does not fit this definition is not real food and should be avoided. The problem is advertising and marketing misinforms people about what is considered healthy.
Research has shown that when mothers are granted greater control over resources, they allocate more to food, children’s health and nutrition, and education.
Women are the gatekeepers of household nutrition and lifestyle habits and therefore have the potential to drive prevention from the household and beyond.
What needs to be done ?
Women and girls should be empowered with easy and equitable access to knowledge and resources to strengthen their capacity to prevent type 2 diabetes in their families and better safeguard their own health. Promoting opportunities for physical exercise in adolescent girls, particularly in developing countries, must be a priority for diabetes prevention. All women with diabetes require affordable and equitable access to care and education to better manage their diabetes and improve their health outcomes.
For those already diagnosed with diabetes a multidisciplinary team of well equipped medical professionals key to the management of the disease and its outcomes.
Society at large (both men and women) need to work to curb this epidemic. Ubuntu – the African philosophy of ‘I am because you are’ underpins an approach of taking care of ourselves so we can take care of others.
Our current stressful economic and political climate certainly impacts, crime needs to be addressed so that all people can walk freely and engage healthy lifestyles. The focus on food security and protection of farmers who grow real food must be addressed. Health education in schools is critical, the idea of health maintenance must be taught to all children. Marketing and advertising of unhealthy foodl – like products must be curbed. Access to health facilities, early diagnosis and screening is essential, and also important is access to correct medication and experts in the field of diabetes and women’s health.
With healthy women as role models of society we can be a miracle of a nation.
Dr Sundeep Ruder
Life Fourways hospital
011 875 1940