Diabetes in South Africa:

The Silent Killer

August 10, 2013  |  By Jaconde Nsumbu, South Africa

Diabetes in South Africa:

Photo : Tom Pickering/Sxc.hu

Many people living in South Africa don't know much about diabetes. "Diabetes is when your blood has too much sugar due to eating a lot of sweets," said Mary, a Sea Point High School student, when asked for her opinion on the topic. And sometimes they fail to understand just how serious this condition is.

Diabetes (often called a sugar sickness) is a disorder in which the blood sugar levels get too high, or too low. It's very easy to fall into the habit of eating 'junk' or 'fast-food' and not exercising enough; but the combination of inactivity and an unhealthy diet is putting more and more South Africans in the path of diabetes, also known as the 'silent killer'.

"Diabetes and obesity is a dangerous combination and the prevalence of both is increasing at an alarming rate, with up to 400 million people likely to develop diabetes (mostly type two) in the next 15 to 20 years unless action is taken," said Lindsay Ord an online writer.

In South Africa the obesity rates have a similar outlook to international statistics. A rise in diabetes and the prevalence in some population groups has reached almost 12%, but with a few minutes of exercise and a healthy diet this can be controlled.

Early this year headlines where made when a study by Newcastle University in the UK claimed that with a low-calorie diet and exercise, type two diabetes can be reversed. This is good news for those living with the illness, but what about the people who have been misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all? This is a common problem in South Africa, where medical facilities and services are not freely available to a large portion of the population.

One of the major effects of type two diabetes, and one that can easily be avoided by early detection, is the degradation of one's eyesight. This can even lead to complete blindness, all avoidable by going for a screening.

"If a person has diabetes they can't eat things that contain lots of sugar or they might die" said Joe, a learner from a Cape Town high school. It's not as simple as just cutting out sweets, cakes and fizzy drinks out of your diet though. Many people think if you're diabetic you must never eat sweets or you will die. The truth is that being diabetic does not mean you can't eat sweets or cakes; it just means that you have to check your blood sugar levels before eating them.

It is also advisable to see a dietician who can work out a plan that suites you and your family, which should include healthy carbohydrates. And not cutting out of sweets will help you with the illness. Exercise is vital, but it lowers the sugar levels in your blood, so diabetics should take a sugar reading and it's necessary to have a snack before exercising. Here are some symptoms of diabetes:

- always thirsty, drinking more water than usual
- feeling tired all the time
- going to the toilet often to pass water (pee)
- blurred vision
- weight loss
- tingling or numbness in the hands or feet

Millions of people worldwide are living with diabetes. Once you understand that it's all about education and adapting your lifestyle it becomes easier to accept. It's just a matter of education and understanding.

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