Dr David Heber is the chairman of the Herbalife Nutrition Institute (HNI), which promotes excellence in nutrition education for the public and scientific community and sponsors scientific symposia.
The HNI editorial board is made up of key scientific opinion leaders from around the world in the fields of nutrition, exercise physiology, behavioural medicine and public health.
What is Diabesity?
When defined, the term seems simple enough: diabesity is a convenient way of describing and discussing type 2 diabetes in the context of obesity. These two afflictions seem to converge and intersect more and more, popping up in our own households and communities, among family and friends who have long struggled with their weight.
And it makes sense to combine these two conditions into one place. Together, both lead to the development and progression of cardiovascular disease – the top cause of untimely death in the EU. Both weigh heavily on our health care systems worldwide, on our economies, on our budgets, and on our businesses’ bottom lines.
The Diabesity Epidemic: A Growing Crisis
Before we can dig into the solutions, we have to understand the full extent of the problem.
As of 2014, 422 million people across the globe were affected by diabetes – a number expected to move closer to 600 million by 2035. Meanwhile, the vast majority of individuals with type 2 diabetes – roughly 80 percent – are considered obese, highlighting the strong association between the two. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all obese folks will develop diabetes; they won’t. But according to research conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it does suggest a pretty direct connection, one that will only get deeper over time.
This challenge is arguably the worst among women. According to the International Diabetes Federation, there are currently upwards of 199 million women living with diabetes, a number projected to jump to 313 million by 2040. Two out of every five women with diabetes are of reproductive age. Women with diabetes are nearly 10 times more likely to have a coronary heart condition than women without it, and the disease is the ninth leading cause of death for women around the world.
All told, the impact of the diabesity epidemic is substantial, causing health problems such as:
- long-range diabetic complications
- reduction in heart-related functioning
- lower quality of life
- decreased life expectancy
- greater frequency of strokes.
Diabesity is draining our economies as well. Look, for example, at Malta, an island where rates of diabetes and obesity are extremely high. One study found that both afflictions accounted for an exponentially rising portion of family and public budgets.
Or look at the United States, where diabetes takes up 14 percent of our overall health expenditures, and obesity accounts for nearly 6 percent – totalling the highest known spending on diabesity anywhere.
According to the World Health Organization, the global prevalence of diabetes among adults over 18 years of age has risen from 4.7% in 1980 to 8.5% in 2014. During the period 2000–2012 the proportion of premature deaths in adults attributable to high blood glucose increased across over the world.
Simply put, the numbers, stats, facts and figures continue to reinforce what we already know: in nations large and small, the diabesity crisis is real. It’s pressing and it’s up to us to take steps in early detection, screening, prevention, health management, and personal behaviour to reverse this trend once and for all.
Reducing Diabesity: The Answers Start with us
Anytime an epidemic of this magnitude stares us in the face, we tend to search high and low for a magic bullet to end it and get ourselves back on track. In the case of diabesity, there’s nothing magical about what we have to do.
The answer is pretty simple: eat better and exercise more.
I know. Easier said than done. But it’s absolutely true, and it shouldn’t have to be all that complicated.
Simply put, a diabesity diet is all about of making healthier decisions about what we buy at the grocery store and being mindful of what we eat.
Here are some basic principles to combat diabesity:
- Make fruit and vegetables mandatory in your diet, as they can reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Avoid soft drinks that are obscenely high in sugar.
- Avoid packaged foods that are full of salt, saturated fats, and chemical preservatives.
- Incorporate a nice balance of fish, lean meats, and soy protein.
- Make fibre a daily part of your diet.
All of this will significantly decrease the possibility of being overweight or diabetic.
Pairing the Diabesity Diet with Exercise
Inactivity, according to the World Health Organization, is the leading cause of death globally, followed by high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and tobacco use. It also costs the health system of all European countries in total around €1.3 billion per year and exposes individuals to a higher likelihood of death than smoking, obesity, hyperextension, or high cholesterol.
Most studies show that the way to change course isn’t all that taxing. Just 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity or exercise each week can do the trick. That’s 20-25 minutes a day. By doing that much, you can help increase blood flow to your muscles and give yourself long-term protection from cardiovascular disease.
Here’s the bottom line: exercise truly is another form of medicine. It should be part of our routines from childhood through to old age. And combined with improvements to what we consume at mealtime, there’s no doubt that we can start building a healthier country and planet in the years and decades ahead.
A healthy, active lifestyle is key to not only reducing, but preventing diabesity.