Traditionally, Muslims are not allowed to eat throughout the day while they fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Although individuals with illnesses are usually exempt from fasting, I try my best to do what I can. It's an interesting struggle to keep the balance between fulfilling my religious responsibilities and keeping my health in check. The criticism is endless, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do! My doctors have advised me against fasting numerous times, but I think it should be a personal choice.
But there is an even greater danger with a simplistic understanding of diabetes that focuses exclusively on individual choice -- it diverts attention and resources from other approaches which may be more effective at addressing the diabetes epidemic. It is projected that by the year 2020, one in three Canadians will have either diabetes or pre-diabetes.
With our health care system, diabetes is more easily managed in Canada. But in a developing community, most can't afford a computerized glucometer. So diabetes goes largely untreated, leading to critical complications like blindness, heart disease and kidney failure. Diabetes claims 3.4 million lives every year.
Studies have shown that inadequate follow-up care after emergency room visits is common, with up to 30 per cent of patients with chronic illnesses not seeing a doctor within 30 days after they've been sent home from the ER. Why? In part, it's because fewer than one in three primary care physicians in Canada report being notified when their patients visit an emergency department.
It's been a rather tough year for artificial sweeteners. In that time, three new studies have been released suggesting they are poor substitutes for sugar. In the spring, an investigation into their use revealed a disconcerting association with the onset of depression. Then, a long-term analysis of their use revealed they may contribute to overall weight gain.
Those approaches, for unhealthy eating in particular, can be a real challenge, because they bang hard against the reactor core of our economic system -- consumption. Consumption and lots of it. Like tobacco, the fight for healthy eating will challenge the heart of what companies do: sell as much as they can.
With growing wealth in many developing countries around the world, diet and lifestyle changes are showing dramatic increases in obesity and related diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But more than rising standards of living, lack of education seems to contribute to these dismal trends.
As a dietitian and health counselor, I have no problem with declaring obesity a disease, especially considering the complexity of potential causes, some of which are indeed beyond an individual's control. Having said that, I also believe that the only appropriate response to illness is to make every effort to overcome it as quickly possible.
Type 1 diabetes was once lethal but thanks to the Nobel prize-winning research conducted at the University of Toronto in 1921-22, had become a controllable condition through daily injections of insulin derived from cattle and pigs. My father's story reminds me about the importance of universities as places that create the space for big "what if" and "I wonder" questions.