Response to UK diabetes crisis

Diabetes    Health literacy

I am alarmed, but not surprised, to see the headlines in Britain last week about the soaring rates of type 2 diabetes causing a spike in heart attacks and strokes.

After three decades in the medical industry in the U.S., I have seen the devastating effects of type 2 diabetes first hand, and while our cultures are different – we have a very different system to your wonderful National Health Service – it’s clear that obesity is a global issue.

Since 1975, obesity worldwide has tripled, and in 2016 more than 1.9 billion adults aged 18 years and older were overweight. Of these, 650 million were classified as obese. Meanwhile, as of 2016, there were 41 million children under the age of five who were overweight or obese. It’s a ticking time bomb.

But it’s important not to play the blame game here – fat-shaming is going to get us nowhere! It’s everyone’s fault that this has occurred, and it’s a runaway train. Just about every disease that we have stems from consumption, whether it’s smoke, alcohol or food, so I think we need to go to the source and help people to understand that, while type 2 diabetes does occur as a direct result of people’s inability to control themselves and their food consumption, it’s also a direct correlation of what they don’t know. With so much conflicting information available from diet clubs to so-called experts, it’s difficult for patients to make sound dietary choices.

Increasing health literacy is the most obvious solution, and knowing how to identify good information from fads and marketing. If patients knew what they were supposed to do, we would have a dramatically different spend in our medical space, and better outcomes. Put simply, if you show them what real life looks like, and how to make better choices, sometimes they make better decisions. It’s about education and motivation.

We are already starting to see this in American healthcare. Over the past two or three years, our government has increasingly involved families and patients in their own care; encouraging family engagement and interaction in the life of a family member, and in their own lives, has been a very positive thing.

We have also seen a shift in the way services are run. Rather than, say, being rewarded because they have seen seeing 20 patients in a week, wouldn’t it be better to reward them for achieving great outcomes for those patients?

However, with limits on the amount of time GPs and specialists have to pass this information to patients, it’s going to be a difficult task – but it’s vital that we, as medical professionals, take preventative action, and tell people how not to get into that condition by improving their diet. Once a patient is into crisis mode, it becomes much more difficult to treat.

So many Americans fail to realise the poor state of their health, that when they do seek out treatment it comes at a far higher cost. It’s vital that the U.K. learns these lessons before it’s too late.

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