Diabetes is a serious disease whether looked at from the perspective of the patient or of its cost to the National Health Service. Characterised by raised levels of sugar in the bloodstream, it can ultimately lead to diverse problems including blindness, gangrene, kidney disease, nerve damage and impotence, and is the third leading cause of death after cardiovascular disease and cancer. What is more, diabetes is turning into a bit of an epidemic in the UK, with the number of sufferers set to double over the next decade.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The good news is that there’s plenty of evidence that making informed dietary choices offers real potential for the treatment of diabetes. This treatment can be so effective that, far all practical purposes, their diabetes is permanently ‘cured’ – without the need for drugs.
As diabetes and obesity go hand-in-hand, with obesity being more obvious first, we will look at the scale of both these conditions.
Obesity: An Increasing Problem
You cannot have failed to notice that people are getting fatter at an alarming rate. Anyone who has watched the Oprah Winfrey show, or has travelled in the USA, will know that the situation there is getting desperate. The same is happening, albeit to a lesser degree, in Britain. But it is not just western industrial countries that are affected. According to the WHO, obesity throughout the industrialised world “has reached epidemic proportions”.
In the USA the proportion of adults aged 20-74 years with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 kg/m 2 (classed as obese), increased from 12.3 percent in 1976-80 to 22.5 percent in 1988-94. (1)
Obesity in the United Kingdom
Similarly over the past couple of decades, overweight has increased dramatically and obesity has more than doubled in the UK. (2)
|Overweight %||Obese %|
World Childhood Obesity Rising
The incidence of obesity normally increases with age. But today, the situation is becoming so bad that children are increasingly becoming overweight. It is now reckoned by WHO that around 22 million children worldwide are overweight or obese. They also estimate that over 25% of children are obese in: (3)
Diabetes Epidemiology: Worldwide
As the epidemic of obesity has spread in the industrialised world, the numbers of cases of diabetes has risen in tandem.
This should come as no surprise as the two diseases are caused by the same thing – over-consumption of carbohydrates (sugars and starches).
WHO says that there are now 110,000,000 cases worldwide and that a 1 in 10 prevalence is expected by 2010. If that is an accurate estimate, it means that some 600,000,000 people will be diabetic in less than 8 years.
And it doesn’t just happen in Western industrialised nations. It is happening wherever there are Western influences. For example: (4)
|Prevalence of type 2 diabetes||Male/female (%) rate ratio|
Note that, in these countries, it is the urban populations that are worst affected. This, again, is an indication that Westernisation is a causal factor as rural populations are much more likely to continue with traditional eating styles.
The same is true of the Canary Islands. In that small population, 24% of men are obese. That is the highest percentage in Europe. Thirty-seven percent of women are obese. That is the third highest in Europe, after Lithuania and Russia. There are also extremely high levels of diabetes. And the reason for this is a dramatic change from eating traditional foodstuffs to eating tourist foods. (5)
Diabetes Epidemiology: UK
According to the British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK, currently there are:
- 1.4 million diagnosed diabetics in UK
- 1 million more diabetics undiagnosed
- 33,000 diabetic deaths in UK per annum – that’s 1 death in 7
- 49,419,319 patient days are spent in hospital (1999/2000)
- 3 million diagnosed diabetics are expected by 2010
- Diabetes is now reckoned the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.
They say: “The number of diabetes sufferers is expected to double in Britain over the next ten years, causing a huge increase in deaths from heart disease. Yet many could ward off the threat of diabetes in middle age or reduce its impact by abandoning their ‘couch potato’ lifestyles”. But while I agree with the assessment of increase – unless something is done – I don’t agree with the second: A sedentary lifestyle is not the cause of either obesity or diabetes; and it smacks too much of the blaming the patient when it is the nutritionist, dietician and government who are really at fault for forcing people to adopt an unhealthy dietary regime.
Extent of existing complications at diagnosis of diabetes
It is estimated that the onset of Type-2 diabetes actually occurs at least seven years before its diagnosis. For this reason, there is a considerable number of diabetics around who are unaware that they are diabetic. This point is very important: because so much diabetes is undiagnosed, by the time of diagnosis, newly diagnosed diabetics who, because they are newly diagnosed are probably the healthiest, have already suffered the following morbidity as is demonstrated here: (6)
|Myocardial infarction (heart attack)||2%|
|Stroke/transient ischaemic attack||1%|
|Absent foot pulses/ischaemic feet||14%|
|Impaired reflexes/decreased sense of vibration||7 %|
As you can see, diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate and fully half the people who have the disease probably are completely unaware of it. This is important as, unless it is diagnosed and treated, the consequences may be severe.
To find out if you are at risk go to Part 2: What is diabetes – are you at risk?
1. Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Kuczmarski RJ, Johnson CL. Overweight and obesity in the United States: prevalence and trends, 1960-1994. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2000; 22: 39-47.
2. Health Survey for England. British Nutrition Foundation. http://www.nutrition.org
3. WHO Report, International Herald Tribune , Friday, 17 May 2002.
4. White F, Rafique G. Diabetes prevalence and projections in South Asia. Lancet 2002; 360: 07 September 2002.
5. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2002:56;557-60
6. US National Diabetes Data Group and WHO
Part 1: The scale of the problem
Part 2: What is diabetes — Are you at risk?
Part 3: Conventional treatment for Type-2 diabetes – and why it fails
Part 4: Why carbs are the wrong foods for diabetics
Part 5: The evidence
Part 6: The correct diet for a Type-2 diabetic, (or treatment without drugs)
Part 7: Treatment for Type-1 diabetes
Suitable foods for diabetics