Sir John Hayes on the difficulties of diabetes
Diabetes is the fastest growing health crisis of our time. An estimated 4.6 million people are now living with the disease in the United Kingdom, with the number of people diagnosed doubling in the last 20 years.
For those not able to control the condition, often because it has not been identified promptly, diabetes can lead to a number of extremely serious complications and additional health problems, including blindness, kidney disorders, strokes and heart disease.
In addition to those already diagnosed, we know that a dangerously high number are at risk of Type 2 diabetes. Indeed, recent estimates suggest that number may be as high as 12.3 million.
This considered, last week in the House of Commons, I asked the Government to redouble its efforts to tackle this plague before it spirals out of control.
There are wide disparities between the number of individuals diagnosed as diabetic and those living with the consequences of the illness, but who have not had the cause medically identified. This considered, it is crucial that the public are aware of the signs and symptoms, particularly those who are considered at ‘high risk’ of future development.
The Government should intensify public information campaigns, whilst encouraging everyone to speak about the risks when they meet their GP or health professional. Early diagnosis of diabetes can vastly limit its negative impacts, allowing for effective, safe treatment and a good quality of life.
Whilst Type 1 diabetes cannot be avoided, three in five cases of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by making healthier choices. Modern lifestyles are often sedentary compared with years gone by - my father, along with many others like him, cycled five miles to and from work for a good part of his working life. These days, office jobs comprise significant chunks of the modern economy. Likewise, it’s a sad reality that junk food seems more appealing for many than eating fresh and healthy produce.
Nonetheless, the investment in our bodies is of enormous importance. Government can offer us a helping hand, by increasing taxes and regulations on those foods clearly shown to contribute to negative health outcomes.
Fitness matters too, so it is clear there must also be a focus on exercise. Studies repeatedly show the benefits delivered by regular sporting involvement as a child and I would like to see all schools encouraged to play competitive sport, with teams pitched against those from other schools.
Sadly, there is a clear and growing link between poverty and ill-health - 6.6 per cent of Brits are now diabetic, however, this falls markedly in wealthy areas, like Richmond upon Thames (3.6 per cent) and rises significantly in less well-off places, such as Bradford (10.4 per cent). The Government must do everything in its power to redress these health inequalities. It’s for this reason that I have campaigned so passionately for the protection and maintenance of our parks and green spaces – often the only places communities have in which to exercise and play sport.
Diabetes deserves our full attention. It affects individuals across the nation and from all walks of life. Our Prime Minister, with typical fortitude and resolve, copes with Type 1 diabetes and the deputy leader of the Labour party has boldly fought off Type 2. We must explore every opportunity to enable people to resist, cope with and defeat diabetes.