Diabetes: A Big Problem for Years to Come

Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago,  Studies conducted by the University of the West Indies (UWI) estimate that 1 in every 4 adults in some Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries have diabetes.  More worrying is the doubling of overweight and obesity in children less than five years, along with the high rates in adolescence, as obesity is one of the major risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes.  Studies also revealed that both obesity and diabetes tend to be significantly higher in women than in men, with, on average, women being twice as likely to be obese and 60 per cent more likely to have diabetes.


Dr Joy St. John, Director of Surveillance, Prevention and Disease Control at the Caribbean Public Health Agency, CARPHA, said “This data signals that diabetes can be a big problem for years to come.”  Dr St. John also indicated that cultural norms within the Caribbean are a major contributing factor.  However, she stressed that it is imperative for persons to place their health before personal preferences.


Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.  Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar to give us the energy that we need to live.  Uncontrolled levels of insulin in the body can have dire consequences.  This is seen in the 2011 data for CARICOM where the estimated number of premature deaths – persons under 70 years – from diabetes was 39 per 100,000 population: Males – 58 per 100,000 and Females 35 per 100,000 (PAHO/WHO).


A common effect of uncontrolled diabetes is hyperglycaemia, or high blood sugar, which over time leads to serious damage to many of the body’s systems. High blood sugar can seriously compromise the systems of the body and affect every major organ in the body, increasing the risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, nerve damage, blindness, impotence and infections that can lead to amputations. The overall risk of dying among people with diabetes is at least double that of persons without diabetes.


However, simple healthy lifestyle measures have been shown to be effective in preventing and delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes. To help prevent Type 2 diabetes and its complications, people should:

  • Avoid tobacco use
  • Eat a healthy diet which includes at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day and reduce intake of fats and sugars
  • Remain physically active – at least 30 minutes of regular moderate-intensity physical activity on most week days (for adults); and 60 minutes moderate to vigorous physical activity everyday (for children)
  • Maintain a normal body weight


To assist countries to halt and reverse the rise in child and adolescent obesity, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) developed a Plan of Action “Promoting Healthy Weights in the Caribbean: Prevention and Control of Childhood Obesity, 2014-2019” which can guide implementation of activities in countries with technical support from CARPHA where necessary.


The theme for this year’s World Health Day is “Beat Diabetes”.  CARPHA is urging everyone to take responsibility for their health by adopting healthy lifestyle practices to prevent and control the high rates of diabetes in our CARICOM countries.