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Weighing up the cost of rising obesity

With two-thirds of adults living in Dartford and Gravesham being classed as overweight or obese, and more obese primary children than anywhere else in Kent, it is time to weigh up the potential cost to both lives and the NHS.

Health experts say obesity levels and diabetes rates are related. Diabetes is a life-long condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high.

The most common form, Type 2, occurs when the body gradually loses the ability to process blood sugar and is strongly linked to lifestyle factors such as weight, lack of exercise and poor diet.

Darent Valley Hospital. Picture: Nick Johnson
Darent Valley Hospital. Picture: Nick Johnson

There are currently 11,200 people in Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley diagnosed with diabetes, and health chiefs who decide how the annual NHS budget is spent in the area predict the number could rise by as much as 30% over the next 10 years.

The condition, quite simply, puts a strain on the health service and already accounts for around 10% of the NHS budget nationwide, with most spent on complications such as amputations and stroke.

Last year, concerns were raised when it was revealed Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust had one of the highest diabetes-related amputation rates in England, with 3.3 per 1,000 people with diabetes per year compared to the national average of 2.6 per 1,000.

As the number of those suffering from the condition increases, costs to the NHS are expected to soar to £17billion in the next 20 years.

With that in mind, the charity Diabetes UK hopes its annual awareness week, which runs until Saturday, will promote a better understanding of the condition, as well as improve health services and research into prevention and possible cure.

This year the theme is ‘I Can’, and the charity wants to hear from those who have overcome many challenges as they deal with their illness on a daily basis, as well as highlighting what it has achieved since its inception 80 years ago.

Stephen and Linda Brereton before
Stephen and Linda Brereton before

Stephen Brereton, from Gravesend, has changed his lifestyle since he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1998.

“It’s a bit like a train coming down the track. When it’s miles away it’s not threatening but when it’s close to you it’s a pending disaster.”

That is how retired Ford Motor Company systems analyst Mr Brereton described living with,the condition.

The 61-year-old’s first inkling that something might be wrong was when, having walked just 100 yards from a church meeting, suddenly he had the urge to go to the toilet.

A blood test by his GP revealed a blood sugar level of 19. The recommended level is below 10.

“I was also overweight but had never really thought about diabetes,” said Mr Brereton. “The diagnosis was a bolt out of the blue.”

He faced three possible treatments – one based on diet, a second involving tablets and then insulin dependency.

Mr Brereton, who lives in Darnley Road, was prescribed tablets but once his care had been transferred to the Diabetes Centre, a diet-only treatment was suggested.

“That was very successful for 13 years and I also started going to the gym at North West Kent College,” he said.

“But about two to three years ago I had to go on tablets as well. I have an annual blood test which has a long range measure of how well you are controlling your diabetes.

"I had had a good run but it had gradually started creeping up.”

Mr Brereton, who lives with his wife, Linda, faced another setback, and the prospect of having to use insulin, after he suffered a chest infection in February last year.

Stephen and Linda Brereton
Stephen and Linda Brereton

A newspaper article about a non-surgical weight-loss programme struck a chord with Mr Brereton as it involved other diabetes sufferers of a similar age and facing insulin.

Counterweight, which is run by health professionals, involves drinking shakes totalling 800 calories a day for three months before gradually reintroducing food.

Calorie intake can be increased to 1,200 with supplementary yoghurts if your lifestyle becomes more active.

Not only did the diet help Mr Brereton lose weight, it had a dramatic affect on his diabetes.

“I lost four stone in three months. By June last year I was down to 17st and it seems to have done the trick because since then I have gone back to diet-only control and my last test showed I was within the (blood sugar) range for non-diabetics which is obviously very good.

“Losing weight is definitely a significant factor when it comes to controlling diabetes. I now have the same level as someone who doesn’t have diabetes and I have saved the NHS money because I am not having the tablets any more.”

Being diagnosed with diabetes was a shock for Mr Brereton but he strongly believes it was one that triggered him to take better care of himself.

“Diabetes was the real reason I went into the weight-loss programme. Since my weight-loss I took part in The Gr@nd’s Run a Mile with a Smile and also took part in a run for Sport Relief. I could never have done that before.

“I have managed to keep most of the weight off and I’m still trying to get to the gym at Cygnets three times a week.

“Diabetes is a complicated disease and can be genetic but as a sufferer you need to control it. You can lose weight, take up exercise.

“For some it doesn’t work so well. But I’ve been going to the gym now for over 10 years and I wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t been diagnosed with diabetes. That’s a silver lining I suppose.”

Reaction from friends and family to Mr Brereton’s healthier lifestyle has also been encouraging.

The only downside was his sudden awareness of cold temperatures. “I’d lost quite a bit of my insulation,” he joked.

Diabetes UK clinical advisor Pav Kalsi praised Mr Brereton’s approach to controlling his diabetes: “Diabetes UK advises that adopting a healthy lifestyle has the potential to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and, like Stephen, maintaining a healthy weight can improve the management of Type 2 diabetes for those who have already been diagnosed.

“We recommend people eat a healthy, balanced diet which is low in fat, salt and sugar and includes plenty of fruit and vegetables and do at least 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week.”

Find a free online risk assessment for Type 2 diabetes at riskscore.diabetes.org.uk

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