There has never been a better time for you to take stock of your diet and levels of physical activity. As we approach World Diabetes Day, to be observed here on November 14th 2014, the International Diabetes Association (IDA) has made us aware of some alarming statistics. For example, we now know that diabetes is a silent killer that sends one person to his grave every seven seconds. Today, more than 382 million people worldwide are living with diabetes and by 2035 this figure is expected to increase to over 600 million. Each year more seven million people develop diabetes. This a growing epidemic which is threatening to overwhelm global healthcare services, wipe out some indigenous populations and undermine economies worldwide, especially in developing countries. In 2012 more than 1.5 million people died from diabetes-related causes, more lives annually than from HIV/AIDS. The world spends more than US$550 billion per year treating diabetes. These are rather frightening figures. But there's more.

Type 1 diabetes, which predominately affects youth, is rising alarmingly worldwide, at a rate of 3% per year. Some 70,000 children are expected to develop Type 1 diabetes annually. On the other hand, Type 2 diabetes is responsible for 90 -95% of diabetes cases and is increasing at frightening rates globally as a result of urbanization, high rates of obesity, sedentary lifestyles and stress.

In many countries in Asia, the Middle East, Oceania and the Caribbean, diabetes affects up to 20% of the adult population. These countries bear the brunt of the major increase in diabetes prevalence but also the burden of the costs. Indigenous populations face genocide because of their high genetic predisposition for Type 2 diabetes. The IDA has estimated that 11.29 percent of the Dominican population have been affected by the disease and 1.29 percent of Dominicans do not know that they already have the disease. There were 5180 cases of diabetes in Dominica in 2013. Diabetes, as you may know, is a chronic disease marked by elevated blood glucose levels.

Though the Caribbean region has generally taken the diabetes epidemic quite lightly, health officials have persistently warned of the problem. For instance, a few years ago, Sir George Alleyne of the Commission on Health and Development in CARICOM concluded that the problem of obesity in the Caribbean poses "a major threat" to the economic survival of the region and that efforts at curtailing this problem must be pursued "with vigor". The commission felt that obesity belongs to a family of chronic diseases which includes diabetes.

During a University of the West Indies (UWI) organized public lecture held at the Fort Young Hotel Dr. Alleyne reiterated the point that Dominica has its fair share of cases of diabetes in addition to high risk factors which are known to contribute to the disease.

According to Dr. Alleyne, "Approximately 12% of females are diabetic and surprisingly the figure in males is twice as high. The first four causes of death here are consistently hypertensive heart disease, diabetes, coronary heart disease and strokes. About 15% of the adult population smokes and almost twice that number are exposed to smoke in the workplace. About 30% of males are overweight or obese and females show twice that figure. About two out of every three Dominican women are overweight or obese. About 16% of males had low levels of physical activity and the figure for females was twice as high".

The Government of Dominica has also recognised the precarious position of the health of the population due to widespread diabetes. When Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said, in jest, at a function at the Princes Margaret Hospital some time ago that his government should consider placing higher taxes on sugar to discourage Dominicans from taking in so much of the product, he was making a serious point. Health officials have indicated that in the early Sixties the Caribbean population was already consuming too much sugar but the trend continued to a point where sugar consumption is now a deadly habit.

Excessive consumption of sugar and other issues will feature prominently when Dominicans observe World Diabetes Day (WDD) on 14 November, a date chosen to mark the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, who is credited with the discovery of insulin. A United Nations Resolution on diabetes focuses world attention on the need to stop the growing diabetes epidemic through urgent action. If countries do nothing, budgets will be unable to pay for the cost of diabetes care, healthcare services will not have the human resources to look after the increased numbers with the disease, and in many countries the disease will subvert the gains of economic advancement. As a result of the scale of the problem, no single government or region is equipped to tackle it and countries with the least resources are expected to bear the brunt of the increase in diabetes cases and the burden of the associated costs. The humanitarian, social and economic costs are immense.

But there is hope in this environment of gloom. We have the knowledge to tackle the diabetes epidemic, and reduce the suffering and pre-mature deaths that diabetes causes. We also have the cost-effective strategies to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes complications. Though diabetes is not yet curable, in many cases Type 2 diabetes is preventable. If governments begin now by promoting low-cost strategies that alter diet, increase physical activity and modify lifestyles, the advance of this epidemic can be reversed.