We’ve all heard about diabetes, but what about diabesity? The term might be new to you, but it’s a growing problem globally, including Mzansi, as the globe marks World Diabetes Day.
The term diabesity is used to emphasise the strong link between diabetes and obesity and refers to the coexistence of diabetes and obesity in an individual.
The South African Medical Research Council reports that 61% of the population is overweight, obese, or severely obese. According to the International Diabetes Federation, an estimated two million people in South Africa have diabetes.
Fadhl Solomon, the CVS Product Manager for Pharma Dynamics, emphasises that it is important to note that not all individuals with obesity necessarily develop type 2 diabetes, and not all individuals with type 2 diabetes are obese.
The risks are high
“It’s important to note that not all individuals with obesity necessarily develop type 2 diabetes, and not all individuals with type 2 diabetes are obese.
Ngijabuliseni Mlangeni from the Free State tells Health For Mzansi said her sugar levels have become high. She stopped going to the gym and that led to her being obese.
“I was diagnosed with diabetes at 22, but I was not obese; I just had fatigue and was extremely moody. Ever since my health has been bad,” she admits.
“Being obese and diabetic requires me to take more medication, and taking treatment is a challenge for me. I think the fact that I am obese increases my chances of being diabetic, although it happened vice versa for me. It goes hand in hand. If I were not obese, I think I would be able to manage it and keep it within a constant range, but because of my body, it’s a challenge,” she says.
For Tsholo Mosupi from North West, being overweight led to her becoming diabetic, and she says experiencing both conditions at the same time is very difficult and comes with extra challenges.
“Since my diagnosis, I have been experiencing weight loss, but it does not worry me a lot because I am overweight. The main struggle is changing eating habits, such as no longer eating takeaways, cutting sugar and fatty goods, and maintaining good health and body weight.”
Diabesity: connecting the dots
Solomon explains that the relationship between obesity and type 2 diabetes means that each can contribute to the development and exacerbation of the other in the following ways:
Obesity leading to type 2 diabetes:
- Obesity is often characterised by an excess accumulation of fat, especially in the abdominal region. This excess fat can lead to a condition called insulin resistance, where the body’s cells don’t respond effectively to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. As a result, the pancreas produces more insulin to compensate for increasing blood glucose levels.
- To meet the increased demand for insulin, beta cells in the pancreas (which produce insulin) become overworked and stressed. Over time, they will not be able to produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
- Insulin resistance, coupled with insufficient insulin production, results in elevated blood sugar levels. If these high blood sugar levels persist, it can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes leading to obesity:
- High blood sugar levels associated with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes can lead to increased appetite and thirst.
- Some medications, particularly insulin and certain oral medications, can lead to weight gain as a side effect. This can further exacerbate obesity in individuals with diabetes.
- Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, which may reduce a person’s physical activity levels. Inactivity can contribute to weight gain and obesity.
Solomon also underlines that early detection and intervention are crucial in preventing and managing diabetes and not taking action is likely to result in sufferers becoming progressively ill and debilitated.
“Diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, often develops gradually and may not present noticeable symptoms in its early stages. If uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to a variety of serious health complications, such as heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, and vision problems. Regular screenings can detect the condition before it becomes more advanced, allowing for early intervention.”
Importance of screenings
He adds that different types of diabetes require different management approaches. “A diabetes screening can help healthcare providers determine the type and severity of diabetes in a patient, allowing for personalised treatment plans.”
“Screenings typically involve simple blood tests to measure blood glucose (sugar) levels and can be done at most pharmacy clinics. The frequency of screenings should be discussed with a healthcare provider, and it may vary depending on individual risk factors and age.
“Overall, diabetes screenings play a crucial role in maintaining public health and the well-being of individuals at risk of or living with diabetes,” he says.
Moreover, Solomon mentions that it is important to recognise that both obesity and type 2 diabetes are preventable and manageable conditions, and he encourages everyone over the age of 45 to go for a diabetes screening to prevent and manage the ever-increasing burden of diabesity.
Get the Health For Mzansi newsletter: Your bi-weekly dose of kasi health, wellness and self-care inspiration.