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T&T’s children falling to diabetes scourge
Diabetes among primary school pupils is growing by leaps and bounds. This was confirmed by president of the Diabetes Association of T&T Carlton Phillip who claimed that statistics, compiled by his association in the last five years, have showed that pupils as young as nine years and even younger are testing positive for Type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes is the second cause of death in T&T. The association focuses primarily on pupils in Standards Three and Four. In 2007, the association had recorded 200 children with diabetes. By 2009, Phillip said, the figure had grown to 350. Today, the association’s registration has ballooned to 613. “We want to nip diabetes in the bud. If we look to target the secondary school population, they are already set in their ways. We are trying to save those at a tender age.”
Phillip said while the statistics continue to climb, there are thousands of children in T&T who have the disease and may not know it. He advised parents who may notice increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, weight loss, fatigue, irritability or unusual behaviour, blurred vision, and yeast infections in girls to see a doctor. Diabetes is a defect in the body’s ability to convert glucose to energy.
‘Control what kids put in their bodies’
Long ago, Phillip said, when his members tested the sugar level of pupils in primary schools, they would walk with their glucose meter, which determines the approximate concentration of glucose in their blood. Today, in addition to the meter, the members are also using the measuring tape to determine the waist circumference of children. If a child’s waist is over 28 inches, Phillip said, he is considered to be overweight.
“We are seeing primary-school children whose waist circumferences are 40 and 44 inches, which is a worrying concern.” There are 175,000 diabetics in T&T, Phillip said, with 55 per cent of the population being obese. Phillip said the consumption of fast foods, and drinks laced with sugar has been contributing to obesity, which later leads to diabetes.
At least two schools in Central, Phillip said, have banned the drinks from their cafeterias. “At least this is a start. We have to control what these kids put into their bodies, especially the sugary beverages. I am not saying to stop it entirely. There has to be a limit.”
He said parents have to take responsibility for the foods and drinks their children consume, which in turn will reduce the country’s increasing healthcare bill. “We are discovering children as young as five with the disease.” One pupil in every class is tested with diabetes, Phillip said. “When we were poor we used to eat better. Now, with the proliferation of fast-food outlets, our diet is poor.”
Camp for children with diabetes
Diabetic children are sent to a health centre or a camp at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC) where they are put on a special diet by doctors and are shown how to maintain their sugar levels. Phillip said while his organisation was doing their part, society, in particular parents, needed to do theirs.
Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan admitted that diabetes has been occurring among the very young in T&T. He said a recent study at the EWMSC has revealed that children between the ages of five and seven were found to have higher cholesterol and sugar levels than adults. The complications of diabetes, Khan said, has put a strain on the cost of running the country’s healthcare system.
“We have to take the bull by its horns and learn to treat ourselves in a proper manner. In doing so, you will assist the economy as well as yourself.” Khan said he signs off millions of dollars in cardiac care, dialysis and kidney care on a daily basis. Though Khan has endorsed his ministry’s Fight the Fat campaign, he said people in T&T were packing on the pounds with little regard for their health.
“They are now obese to the point of being in a comfort zone, which they are accepting.” Khan said the biggest epidemic was not HIV, but the complications of non-communicable diseases. Khan said that diabetes was more prevalent among Indo-Trinidadians who eat a lot of carbohydrates and cook with more oil, while Afro-Trinidadians suffer with hypertension.
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