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Viewpoint: Prevent now and reduce future risks

The role of preventive medicine in tackling Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes – often the result of poor lifestyle and excess body weight – accounts for approximately 90% of all diabetes worldwide and can lead to life-changing health complications, such as blindness, amputation, heart disease, kidney failure and even death.

However, the good news is that more than 50% of Type 2 diabetes is preventable, something worth highlighting as we mark World Diabetes Day this November 14th.

While some people with the disease will require medication to manage the symptoms, many people can reduce the symptoms and prevent them from worsening by maintaining a more active lifestyle and adopting a healthier diet. What’s more, it’s actually possible to prevent the onset of the disease in the first instance by being aware of the warning signs – such as obesity, family history, or increased body fat around the abdomen – and taking immediate preventive action.

This World Diabetes Day focuses on protecting your family against onset of the disease and aims to promote the important role that families play in terms of the management, care, prevention and education of diabetes. It’s a valuable opportunity for all of us to become more aware of the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, so that we can recognise the warning signs in ourselves and our family members and take action to prevent it from developing or taking hold.

People often don’t realise just how powerful changes to lifestyle and diet can be.

These days we’re inundated with information about the benefits of healthy eating and how getting more exercise can improve our health. This is not a new phenomenon, it has been at the centre of many public information campaigns for decades. But what’s important to understand is that it can have a much greater impact on health than many of us realise. Preventing, halting or even reversing a disease like diabetes is a great example of just how much can be achieved through changes to lifestyle and diet.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ lifestyle that caters to each individual, but the general rules apply: maintain a healthy, balanced diet and take regular exercise. Often times, people try to alter their lifestyle after the symptoms of a disease like diabetes appear, or to reduce symptoms of an existing condition like sleep apnea or migraine. However, we need to change this mindset, and to educate people on the many ways we can act now to positively improve our long-term health. In doing so, we can actively prevent certain diseases from developing later in life.

As a healthcare professional, my responsibility is to educate society and empower individuals to take control of their own health outcomes. Preventive steps are one of the best ways to reduce the risks of certain diseases, or to lessen the development of existing conditions. We need to keep reinforcing this message and influencing people’s mindset, through education in schools and in work places, and by embracing new technology such as fitness apps and wearables.

The whole area of preventive medicine is one that is continuously growing, and the future looks promising. In a recent report commissioned by Allianz Care, ‘Future Health, Care and Wellbeing’, futurist Ray Hammond predicted that by the year 2040, nano-scale technology will be used to prevent and cure diseases, gene editing will have the ability to reduce one’s risk of inheriting certain diseases, and advances in digital health tools will help start a ‘prevention revolution’ by creating a culture of health awareness worldwide.

While it’s true that not every disease is preventable, greater education and an emphasis on the power of preventive medicine can give individuals more ownership and control of their own health outcomes. This can reduce the occurrence of many diseases, including Type 2 Diabetes, and ultimately improve people’s quality of life and that of their families.

Dr Ulrike Sucher is Medical Director of Allianz Care, the international health brand of Allianz Partners