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Friday, 17 November 2023

As we recognise World Diabetes Day, the 2023 "Know your risk, know your response" theme resonates profoundly in South Africa, especially considering the rising prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the country.

According to Aimee Wesso-Roberts, Head of Lifestyle and Wellness Management at the AfroCentric Group, the landscape of diabetes in our nation is intertwined with unique challenges that demand a holistic understanding of risks and proactive responses.

"While type-1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease that is usually diagnosed in childhood, type-2 diabetes is generally brought on by lifestyle decisions which are largely preventable. Our country needs to take a serious look at how we go about encouraging prevention," says Wesso-Roberts.

She says South Africa's demographic-specific statistics highlight a high prevalence in family history. Reports suggest that more than 80% of individuals without diabetes have a family history of the condition – a major non-modifiable risk factor. Understanding these risk factors provides insights vital to shaping our healthcare strategies.

"Empowering South Africans with knowledge, fostering supportive environments, and advocating for proactive measures can significantly mitigate the impact of diabetes in South Africa."

For instance, Wesso-Roberts highlights the fact that only 10% of South Africans without diabetes have had their blood glucose tested in the last year, which is a problem when it comes to early identification of the condition.

"We need to create a collective response to tackle diabetes, emphasising prevention, education, and support networks. By knowing our risks and crafting appropriate responses, we can work towards a healthier and more resilient South Africa."

It starts with identifying risks

One of the most significant challenges we face is the alarmingly high rate of obesity, a key risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Wesso-Roberts says diabetes is not isolated but rather linked to a web of factors like poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and socioeconomic complexities, which includes limited safe outdoor spaces for exercise due to crime concerns. However, she believes one of the biggest contributors to late healthcare support comes in the form of screening avoidance.

"By delaying diabetes testing we lose opportunity for early detection that could have lessened the impact of diabetes on the body," says Wesso-Roberts. "This calls for a shift in our approach where prevention and early screening become prioritised. Regular health screenings, especially for people with risk factors, are crucial. A simple finger prick test can gauge one's health status, enabling early intervention and lifestyle adjustments."

It's no longer an adult issue

Wesso-Roberts is concerned that diabetes is no longer an ailment restricted to adults. "Globally, we are witnessing a significant increase in type 2 diabetes diagnoses among adolescents, primarily due rising obesity rates."

She says schools need to play a more pivotal role in influencing healthy habits among children. They can significantly impact students' dietary choices by revaluating tuck shop offerings and promoting nutritious options.

It's not just about sugar


Misconceptions about diabetes, such as solely attributing it to excessive sugar consumption, need to be dispelled. Processed foods and the underestimation of the role of exercise in managing blood glucose levels contribute significantly to diabetes risks.

It's a holistic issue

Crafting a diabetes management plan involves a multi-faceted approach encompassing medication, diet, exercise, and regular check-ups. Patient-centric care and empowerment play a pivotal role. Access to healthcare services, educational resources, and addressing the whole person's needs, including mental health, are crucial aspects.

It's time to get the community involved

Combatting the stigma associated with diabetes is essential. Creating environments that support healthy choices and understanding that managing diabetes isn't solely an individual's responsibility, but a communal effort is critical in fostering healthier habits on a larger scale.

World Diabetes Day serves as a reminder that addressing diabetes isn't solely about medical treatments. "It's about empowering communities, fostering healthier environments, and embracing lifestyle changes that promote overall wellbeing. By understanding our risks and responding proactively, we can pave the way for a healthier future for generations to come," Wesso-Roberts concludes.

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