With obesity on the rise, what can be done to help stop Norfolk’s diabetes epidemic?

Dr Clare Hambling. Picture: West Norfolk CCG

Dr Clare Hambling. Picture: West Norfolk CCG - Credit: West Norfolk CCG

The rising tide of obesity has pushed the number of people in Norfolk and Waveney with diabetes past 50,000 for the first time - with warnings that the figure could be much higher.

From L-R, Suzanne Wilkin, Gordon Richardson, Russ Clarke and Toby Swann. Picture: David Bale

From L-R, Suzanne Wilkin, Gordon Richardson, Russ Clarke and Toby Swann. Picture: David Bale - Credit: Archant

And a charity has warned that poor diet is leading to more and more children developing type 2 diabetes - the version that is linked to diet and lifestyle. In another indication of the growing crisis, the county's NHS spent a 10th of its prescription budget last year on diabetes medication, at a spiralling cost of £18m, up from £16m three years before.

The figures are revealed in a report by Diabetes UK, which said 52,560 people in Norfolk and Waveney are registered with diabetes.

Dr Clare Hambling, a Downham Market GP and Diabetes UK Clinical Champion, warned that the true picture could be far worse.

She said: 'We have a high prevalence of diabetes in Norfolk, which is related to a range of factors.

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'Many people are aware of the association between type 2 diabetes and lifestyle factors such as diet, obesity and sedentary lifestyle as these get a lot of media attention but other factors, including genetics, population growth, improving life-expectancy and ageing are also important.

'Some people are unaware that they have type 2 diabetes and may not be diagnosed until after they start to show signs of complications, which can be several months or even years after the onset of the condition.

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'Early diagnosis and treatment is absolutely essential if we want to prevent or reduce the risk of disabling diabetes-related complications.'

Norfolk and Waveney currently has 4,460 patients registered with type 1 diabetes, which is a naturally occurring condition which requires daily insulin injections or infusions, and 48,100 people with type 2 diabetes which can be managed by medication or changes to lifestyle and diet or sometimes requires injectable therapies.

The highest proportion of people with type 2 diabetes was in Great Yarmouth and Waveney, where 12,490 people had the condition. This was compared to 6,940 in North Norfolk.

Diabetes UK said that the number of children and young people with diabetes was the highest it had ever been.

The charity reported that 6,836 children and young adults had type 2 diabetes in England and Wales, according to data from GP surgeries.

It said that the main driver behind the figures was the rise in obesity.

Other factors which could also play a part include a family history and ethnic background, it added.

Type 2 diabetes is much more aggressive in youngsters and complications of the disease - which can include blindness, amputations, heart disease and kidney failure - can appear earlier.

Diabetes UK warned that thousands more children and young people could be diagnosed with the condition over the coming years, as the latest figures on childhood obesity showed that more than one-third of children in England would be overweight or obese by the time they left primary school.

It has called for better specialist support for youngsters with the condition to help manage their illness and reduce their risk of serious complications.

Meanwhile, it backed proposals for a ban on junk food TV advertising aimed at children before 9pm, and to restrict supermarket price promotions for unhealthy foods.

Bridget Turner, director of policy and campaigns at Diabetes UK, said: 'Type 2 diabetes can be devastating for children and young people.

'To help shape a future where fewer children develop the condition, we need continued commitment across society to create an environment that reduces obesity.'

A five-year strategy has been developed in Norfolk and Waveney by health and social care staff and patient representatives and aims to ensure high quality diabetes care.

A prevention programme, where people are referred by their GPs, is helping people change their lifestyles to avoid the disease.

Gordon Richardson, from North Walsham, 65, said: 'I wish I had been taught this at school. My dad had type 2 and lost his leg. And a friend died from diabetes just short of his 50th birthday. The course helps concentrate the mind.'

Russ Clarke, 53, and from Norwich, lost 2st on the course. He said: 'That's just through a change in lifestyle. You are not told what to eat, but given information on food that's low in carbohydrates, and make a decision that's right for you. I had a blood test in March. It showed I was 47 while 48 is a diabetic. I'm now down to 36.'

What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?

Charity Diabetes UK says when you've got Type 1 diabetes, you can't make any insulin at all. If you've got Type 2 diabetes, it is a bit different.

The insulin you make either can't work effectively, or you can't produce enough of it.

In both types of diabetes, because glucose cannot get into your cells, it begins to build up in your blood. And too much glucose in your blood causes a lot of different problems.

To begin with it leads to diabetes symptoms, like having to urinate a lot, being incredibly thirsty, and feeling very tired.

You may also lose weight, get infections like thrush or suffer from slow healing wounds.

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