With over 199 million women living with diabetes worldwide, it’s no wonder the focus for World Diabetes Day 2017 is ‘Women and diabetes’.

According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), diabetes is the ninth leading cause of death in women globally, causing 2,1 million deaths per year.

Locally, the statistics are even worse. According to StatsSA (2015), diabetes is the biggest killer of South African women.

Poor socio-economic conditions in developing countries like ours often means that girls and women lack access to cost-effective diabetes prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment and care.

Sadly, socio-economic inequalities also expose women to the main risk factors of diabetes – poor diet and nutrition, physical inactivity, tobacco consumption and harmful use of alcohol.

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This World Diabetes Day (14 November) people from over 160 countries will be uniting to confront diabetes as a critical global health issue, with a particular focus on women.

“While we advocate an awareness of diabetes for all people, this campaign specifically aims to highlight the essential diabetes treatments and technologies, self-management education and information that women require to achieve optimal diabetes outcomes and strengthen their capacity to self-manage or prevent type 2 diabetes,” says Dr Larry Distiller, Specialist Physician/Endocrinologist and Executive Chairman of the Centre of Diabetes and Endocrinology (CDE).

How diabetes endangers women

While diabetes has an impact on the health of both men and women, there are specific conditions that affect women with diabetes.

Pregnancy dangers for mom and baby

Dr Distiller says that women with diabetes may have poor pregnancy outcomes if good care is not accessible from preconception through to post-delivery.

In fact, without pre-conception planning, type 1 and type 2 diabetes can result in a significantly higher risk of maternal and child mortality and morbidity.

Women with type 1 diabetes have an increased risk of early miscarriage or having a baby with malformations.

This is a scary thought since two out of every five women with diabetes are of reproductive age.

Gestational diabetes

Approximately half of women with a history of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) go on to develop type 2 diabetes within five to 10 years after delivery.

One in seven births is affected by GDM. Many women with GDM experience pregnancy related complications including high blood pressure, large birth weight babies and obstructed labour.

Heart disease

Women with type 2 diabetes are almost 10 times more likely to have coronary heart disease than are women without the condition.

Look after yourself

The statistics are terrifying, but the good news, according to the CDE, is that up to 70% of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle.

Following a healthy diet and exercising regularly are two of the most beneficial ways to prevent developing type 2 diabetes.

It’s never too early or too late to make healthy lifestyle changes.

Pregnancy is a time in a woman’s life to be extra vigilant about health. Make sure you are following a healthy diet and speak to your doctor about getting your sugar tested.

If you’re already a mom, start modelling healthy behaviours you want your children to adopt. Prepare wholesome meals and, instead of watching TV together, get outside with the kids and play, walk or ride bikes.

“We have a huge established problem with diabetes and related cardiovascular risks and outcomes. Promoting opportunities for physical exercise in adolescent girls, particularly in developing countries, must be a priority for diabetes prevention – we must not neglect the opportunity we now have to change the future,” says Dr Distiller.

Sources: Centre of Diabetes and Endocrinology and International Diabetes Federation


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