Obesity and inactivity have yet again been stressed as major risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, one of South Africa’s leading killers.
Ahead of World Diabetes Day on November 14, experts described obesity and diabetes as the twin adversaries of health, adding not enough was being done to spread awareness, especially of Type 2 diabetes, which was more preventable and treatable.
The causes of Type 2 diabetes include being overweight, physically inactive, insulin resistant, and genetic factors, but medical practitioners said it was preventable and could be delayed with achievable lifestyle changes even if one was at high risk.
“Losing a small amount of weight and getting more physically active, eating right and, more importantly, being aware of risk factors, can lead to healthier lifestyles among the many who end up with their quality of life compromised as a result,” the Centre for Disease Control said.
Worldwide, an estimated 39% of adults are overweight, while 13% struggle with obesity, and in South Africa the situation is not much better, as at least one in nine are affected by diabetes.
“The country has the second-highest number of people living with Type 2 diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa; and high blood pressure (or hypertension) is twice as likely to affect a person with diabetes than someone without it,” the Centre for Disease Control said.
“Before developing Type 2 diabetes, most people have prediabetes, where their blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough yet for a diabetes diagnosis. Prediabetes is common, and the good news is that prediabetes can be reversed.”
Besides putting pressure on families and communities, Type 2 diabetes also places a financial burden on the country and its already struggling public health-care system. In 2018, Type 2 diabetes cost South Africa about 12% of the total national health budget.
The University of Pretoria plans to host a Diabetes Awareness Day on November 14.
“The need for South Africans to adopt healthier lifestyles to mitigate the burgeoning diabetes epidemic is undeniable. The decisions we make today about what to eat and when and how to be active can either promote health and well-being or drive non-communicable diseases,” the university said.
It said South Africa was faced with a complex web of challenges which hindered the adoption of healthier lifestyles.
Among these were economic disparities, limited access to nutritious foods, and historical inequalities, which made it that much harder for most to make better lifestyle choices.
“Many are often unable to afford or access healthy food options, and live in an environment where beneficial behaviours are difficult to adopt or maintain. For example, in a recent study, women from a well-known township voiced their concerns about safety while exercising in the streets.”
The university said load shedding also had an impact on the dietary habits of South Africans. “There has been a noticeable rise in fast food consumption, as this (load shedding) presents fewer undisrupted opportunities to prepare fresh meals at home.”
It said the adoption of strategies to prevent illness, disability, and the economic effects of these was important. “Collaborative efforts by the government, society, academia, private and public health-care providers, and community leaders need to be expanded and strengthened to steer South Africa towards a healthier future.”
In some communities, shared gardens and communal fitness programmes existed, and these promoted healthier living and also built a sense of unity. “Such initiatives need to be scaled with support from local and community leaders,” the university said.
It also said the government held the power to enact policies, notably, the National Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases, and to incentivise the production and consumption of wholesome foods, while cultivating safe environments that were conducive to exercise.
“All stakeholders need to promote and enable healthy food and activity choices, and discourage the consumption of convenience foods, which result in an increase in high-fat, high-salt and high-sugar foods in the family diet.”