Healthcare professionals are empowering people to join in the battle against diabetes.

It is estimated that 225,840 people in Ireland are living with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Only type 2 diabetes can be prevented. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks its own cells and is unable to produce insulin. It cannot be prevented and is not caused by lifestyle.

A quarter of Ireland's under-fives are overweight or obese, conditions known to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, so rates of the condition are set to rise. By 2020, it is estimated that there will be 233,000 people living with diabetes. Most of those will be type 2, which is largely preventable.

 

How to deter diabetes

 

First, increase your awareness of the condition and find out about the help available.

Sinéad Powell, Regional Development Officer and Dietitian, Diabetes Ireland, says, “If you feel you may be at risk of developing diabetes – if you are overweight for instance – don't delay taking action. 

“Figures show that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases over the age of 40, with associated risks especially with overweight and a sedentary lifestyle. The longer you remain overweight the greater the risk.”

 

Don't be afraid to seek help

 

You can get help from healthcare practitioners and pharmacists in making lifestyle changes that reduce your risk. Don't be deterred by the feeling that you may be judged.

“These days,” says Powell, “instead of lecturing people, we should ask what their healthcare goals are, and how we can help them to get there.”

“The HSE is encouraging healthcare professionals to open conversations with all patients about their lifestyles in their Making Every Contact Count programme, and to let them know about supports available in a non-judgemental and supportive way.”

 

Taking the message to communities

 

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases over the age of 40.

Powell and her colleagues are also delivering simple messages in workplaces, schools and community initiatives about how about movement and diet can reduce the risk of diabetes.

“In workplaces we are often addressing people with no current problems, but we tell them that lifestyle changes in the present can help avoid diabetes in the future,” she says.

She and her colleagues have also been talking to groups in Men’s Sheds – the Men’s Sheds movement offers a space for men to pursue practical interests and socialise. 

“Many of the men are over 60, so we encourage them to know more about diabetes prevention and advise on how often to get their blood glucose levels tested.”

 

Movement and diet changes

 

“Simple changes to increase your level of movement help. We offered the Men’s Sheds group pedometers and encouraged them to increase their daily number of steps. Most of the men lost weight,” says Powell.

The HSE advises that 30 minutes of exercise that increases the heart rate, five times a week, can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 50%.

Increased movement combined with dietary changes tackles diabetes on two fronts.

“For most people, weight gain revolves around snacking, portion size, eating as a habit or late at night.”

“We encourage people to make one small change at a time, such as taking the stairs rather than the lift, and becoming more aware of portion sizes at mealtimes.

 

Practical help

 

Diabetes Ireland encourages people with type 2 to join one of the three HSE-supported structure education courses. These are community-based courses and Diabetes Ireland run the CODE diabetes education programme. 

“These group courses provide people with education and support to plan and achieve goals around their diabetes management. They have the additional benefit of the support of others, which can improve outcomes,” says Powell. Course participants can find out where to get good care, and what they can expect.

An annual review can vary depending on location but should involve an a HbA1c test to check average blood glucose level, retinal screening, foot health checks, and more. Course participants get booklets explaining what the test results mean and how they can be improved.

Powell says: “In the fight against type 2 diabetes, people power is a huge weapon.”

 

If you would like to know your risk, visit diabetes.ie and complete the online risk assessment tool