Want some good news about the current viral pandemic? Vaccines are taking effect across global populations and will eventually end this horrible nightmare. But we’ve yet to face, let alone resolve, the truly catastrophic health crisis plaguing humankind.
It’s a disease for which there are no vaccines. Worse still, it is a completely unnecessary health tragedy that will continue unabated to kill millions of people worldwide year after year. It’s called type 2 diabetes, and the coronavirus has made it deadlier.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S., one in 10 North Americans has diabetes. And 40 percent or more of the people who died of COVID-19 had diabetes.
According to an analysis of CDC data, people aged 25 to 44 showed a sharp increase in diabetes deaths. And this included long-term medical complications prior to death.
Why has this occurred? Type 2 diabetes, the main culprit, is a lifestyle disease. The human pancreas that produces insulin becomes exhausted due to obesity from too many calories and inactivity. School closures and restrictions have added to the problem for children.
If you have friends with diabetes, ask how they spend the day checking their numbers. If blood sugar is too high or too low, adjustments are vitally needed. They have to check with a laboratory every few weeks to see if the numbers are right. And often they may need to add insulin to survive.
For these millions of diabetics, atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) is their mortal enemy. This results in a decreased flow of oxygenated blood to all organs of the body. The later diabetes is diagnosed, the longer this lack of oxygenated blood triggers degenerative medical complications.
One of the most frightening complications is the experience of sudden pain in the toe and then the sight of it gradually become black. Such toes must be amputated and sometimes later the leg is lost to the disease as well. Another major complication is blindness or kidney failure requiring either renal dialysis or a kidney transplant. About 50% of diabetics die of heart attack.
So far nothing has been able to stop the pandemic of type 2 diabetes. Although it is unpopular to say it squarely, the main problem is obesity. The solution involves both a huge reversal in individual lifestyle choices and major systemic changes in the goods society produces, the way we build our communities, the economics of work and play, and more. It has been said many times, jokingly, that due to high sugar content of some breakfast cereals, it would be safer to eat the box! And everyone should step on the bathroom scale every day, as scales never lie.
Motivating individuals to take responsibility amid all the system problems is not a popular prescription. But changing behaviors would do more good in a few months of diligent effort than the billions of dollars being pumped into drugs, surgery, and public relations campaigns.
Here’s the key point. It’s been said that wars are too important to be left to generals. The type 2 diabetes pandemic is too important to be left to doctors.
Let’s challenge the news media. Doctors need help in getting the message out that fighting type 2 diabetes is both a health care priority and a needed urgent fix to save our health care system from bankruptcy. Next week’s column will challenge media outlets to ask this vital question, “Is there any difference between the millions of North Americans who die of COVID-19 quickly, and those millions of people who are dying of diabetes slowly?
Part two of six. Dr. W. Gifford-Jones, aka Ken Walker, is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Harvard Medical School. You can reach him online at his website, docgiff.com, or via email at info@ docgiff.com.