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Diabetes – Now It’s Attacking Our Children

Monday 17 November, 2008

Diabetes – Now It’s Attacking Our Children

It’s stealing years from our life expectancy, it's changing our families, and now it’s attacking our children - some as young as eight. It is Type 2 diabetes. New estimates indicate 500 young people aged between 10 and 18 years have the disease that was, only a few years ago, virtually unknown in this age group.

“It used to be a disease that only affected adults over 45 years old, but not any more” says Mike Smith, president of Diabetes New Zealand.

Diabetes Awareness Week, 18-24 November 2008, is a good time for all of us to think about how we can play a part in reducing the impact this life-threatening disease is having on our society, Mike Smith says.

“It’s our own inaction that is allowing Type 2 diabetes to become an epidemic.”

While Type 1 diabetes is also on the increase, it is the increased prevalence of Type 2 diabetes which is tied back to lifestyle choices. The fact that it is often preventable makes the Type 2 diabetes epidemic even more tragic. It can often be delayed and possibly prevented by eating less and exercising more.

“Once one person in a family has 'got diabetes', everyone has it, in effect,” says Mike Smith.

“Those in the family who may not have the condition will certainly feel its effects, in the time spent caring for family members. In more advanced cases this means helping them come to terms with blindness, amputation and kidney failure.”

Mention diabetes and most people have a story of a relative who has or had diabetes. It’s the invisible condition that touches almost everyone. There are 180,000 New Zealanders diagnosed with all types of diabetes.

In addition there are 80,000 immediately at risk, having a condition called pre-diabetes. There are also 800,000 overweight or obese people in New Zealand who are at longer term risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Excessive weight increases diabetes risk.

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes runs in families, but for different reasons. Close relatives of those with Type 1 have a ten-fold greater risk of developing diabetes compared with people without a family history of Type 1 diabetes. In many cases Type 1 has a genetic link.

The risk of developing Type 2 diabetes is two to three times higher in individuals with a family-member with the disease. This is likely to be the result of a family culture of low exercise and poor diet. So Type 2 is very much a family affair. There can also be other factors.

The emphasis in this year’s Diabetes Awareness Week is on young people and families. When diabetes strikes someone it means that their life has to change. Especially for those with Type 2, it will mean changes to their eating and exercise patterns and lifestyle that are very difficult to do, Mike Smith says.

“No one likes to be the odd one out and that’s why making the necessary changes is so difficult. If the whole family can adopt healthy choices and practices then they will be an enormous support to the person with diabetes.”


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