November 14th is the first United Nations observed World Diabetes Day, and health experts say diabetes has reached epidemic levels in many countries, including the United States. In Los Angeles, diabetes expert Dr. Francine Kaufman, the chairwoman of the event's "Diabetes in Children" campaign, spoke with VOA's Mike O'Sullivan about type two diabetes, which she says is spreading in the developing world.
Medical experts say diabetes affects more than 240 million people around the world, and the number is rapidly rising.
Dr. Francine Kaufman (of Childrens Hospital Los Angeles) says many children have type two diabetes, once a disease of older adults. She says type two diabetes is caused by lifestyle choices, too many calories and fat in the diet and too little activity.
Dr. Kaufman took part in a documentary for the Discovery Health Channel that will be shown on November 18th. The program is called "Diabetes: A Global Epidemic."
"I had the most wonderful experience of traveling the world, finding people with diabetes, finding the warriors who go into battle every day against diabetes, those physicians and scientists and nurses and nutritionists who are around the world facing the same thing, in India, in Australia, in South Africa," she said.
Unlike people with type one diabetes, many with type two do not need insulin injections. Instead, type two is controllable through diet, treatment and medical monitoring. Left unchecked, both types can cause blindness, loss of limbs, nerve damage and kidney failure. They can also contribute to heart disease and stroke.
Type two diabetes is preventable. Kaufman says the disease is spreading because increasing numbers of people in the developing countries like India are joining the middle classes.
Dr. Kaufman says, "So they're all in cars all day long, and they've got satellite dishes outside their houses. They are eating more food, and more Westernized food, and getting overweight and developing diabetes."
She says that in South Africa, type two diabetes is also spreading, she says, "We were in the townships and people were overweight. There is a lot more food available than has been in the past. And people are getting on buses and going to offices and not necessarily being as physically active as they have been in the past."
She says the solution has to be individualized country by country and patient by patient. In Brazil, a clinic sends out community health workers to educate patients, and sponsors dances to get diabetes patients more active.
A mobile medical team in India screens people for diabetes in the villages.
Diabetes is manageable, and type two diabetes, although spreading, is preventable. Dr. Kaufman says that is the message of World Diabetes Day.