Government action is needed to help parents spot diabetes in their children

November 14 is World Diabetes Day. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images
November 14 is World Diabetes Day. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

Diabetes is a global epidemic that concerns every family.

Spotting the warning signs is vital to prevent the life-threatening complications associated with the condition.

Yet this is much easier said than done because parents are struggling to spot the warning signs of diabetes in their own children.

New research from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) has revealed that an alarming three in four South African parents (74%) would have trouble identifying the warning signs, despite the majority of people surveyed (70%) having had a family member diagnosed with diabetes.

Two in five (40%) would not be able to spot them at all.

In response, IDF is urging parents, and fellow family members, to test their knowledge of diabetes through a new online assessment.

Last year, diabetes was responsible for four million deaths, 42 600 in South Africa.

A particularly alarming cause for concern in South Africa is that 85% (1.5 million) of people living with diabetes in the country are undiagnosed.

Left untreated or unmanaged, diabetes can lead to life-changing complications, including blindness, amputation, kidney failure, heart attack and stroke.

The number of people living with diabetes in South Africa is only set to increase over the coming years, so educating parents on the warning signs and risk factors is essential to halt the rise and spot the disease early.

The warning signs of diabetes include excessive thirst, frequent urination, a lack of energy, blurred vision, slow healing wounds, and numbness in the feet and/or hands.

Unfortunately, these signs can be difficult to spot, and even when they are spotted, they are often mistaken as symptoms of different diseases and conditions.

A lack of knowledge about diabetes means that spotting the warning signs is not just a problem for parents, but is an issue impacting a cross-section of society.

Four in five adults across the globe failed to correctly identify the warning signs of diabetes in the IDF study.

This is a major concern, due to the signs being milder in type 2 diabetes, the most prevalent form of the condition, responsible for around 90% of all diabetes cases.

So, while the key to halting the rise in diabetes is prevention, parents are not given enough access to education to help them identify the warning signs.

Type 2 diabetes can in many cases, up to 80% according to some studies, be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Yet it takes knowledge and resources to do this and there is pressure on the government and health bodies to launch better prevention programmes.

We cannot expect people to live healthier lives when they do not know how to do so.

They need access to the information that will help them. Educating parents on the warning signs of diabetes is vital to ensure early diagnosis and treatment.

Many families are also unable to afford to adopt a healthy diet because the cheapest food is often the unhealthiest.

Powerful advertising still tempts children to over-consume discounted foods high in sugar, salt and fat, and more action is needed to make healthier diets more appealing.

Similar marketing campaigns for healthier options could have a great effect on helping families to change their eating habits.

It is vital that everyone learns to identify the warning signs of diabetes because it has devastating complications if not treated early and managed appropriately.

We all have a role to play, but the government needs to do more to help us protect family members from developing type 2 diabetes and its life-threatening complications, and to ensure people with all types of diabetes have access to the medicines and care they require.

There’s work to be done, but if the government, healthcare organisations and families across the country take action now, we will be in a better position to discover, manage and prevent diabetes for future generations.

• For more information about diabetes awareness month and World Diabetes Day, visit

Professor Nam H Cho is president of the International Diabetes Federation

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