This year, the focus of World Diabetes Day, which fell on Wednesday, was “children and young people as the driving force for the promotion and dissemination of education and prevention messages.”

The aim is to build awareness among children and young people of the warning signs and risk factors for diabetes and that in many cases, Type 2 diabetes can be prevented through healthy eating and physical activity. The three key messages of the campaign are: access to essential education for everyone, lifestyles that put health at risk and stigma and discrimination attached to people with diabetes.

According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), the World Diabetes Day 2012 campaign will link the urgent need for action to the protection of the health of our future generations. Particular focus will be placed on highlighting the importance of education — for health professionals, people with diabetes and people at risk — in reducing the impact of diabetes throughout the world.

V. Seshaiah, senior diabetologist who heads the V. Seshaiah Diabetes Care Centre, says prevention is more than primary, it should be primordial. By his reasoning, everything starts intra-uterine, or in the womb. “It is only logical that any preventive measure should start then. My motto is ‘Focus on the foetus for the future’. We should screen the mothers and this should be the focus of the government,” he adds.

According to V. Mohan, of Dr. Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, a new sort of problem has begun to emerge.

He says clinical experience shows that Type 2 diabetes, earlier considered a disease of middle age or older, and caused largely by the interplay of environment with genes, has started affecting younger adults, adolescents and now, children. The youngest cases are even seven or eight years old, according to him. “But the good news is that Type 2 diabetes in children can be prevented, if proper lifestyle measures are adopted in time,” he says.

Following a healthy diet, avoiding a sedentary life and keeping active are touted as the ideal ways of avoiding lifestyle diseases. While India tops the number of people with Type 2 diabetes, several courses of action have been initiated to counter the march of the epidemic, including a Centre-sponsored programme, a number of State-sponsored initiatives, and activity in the private healthcare realm. Taking health education to the schools is one key aspect of intervention strategies.

The IDF’s theme of ‘Protecting our future’ could be interpreted in multiple ways. “It means a lot of things. While primarily it means that we need to prevent diabetes among children, it can also be interpreted to mean you prevent diabetics from becoming sick and adding to the burden of society,” said Vijay Vishwanathan of MV Hospital for Diabetes. Target the complications, ensure that diabetics keep their sugar level under control and intervene early. This way, it is possible to avoid, or postpone complications of diabetes affecting the vascular system, feet, kidneys, eyes and heart, he said.

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