Diabetes Bay’s biggest killer

Diabetes  has become the leading natural cause of death in Nelson Mandela Bay, according to the latest statistics on causes of death released by Stats SA this week. While tuberculosis – including the drug-resistant forms of the disease – remains the most prevalent cause of death in the country and in the Eastern Cape, diabetes killed 33 more people than TB in Nelson Mandela Bay in 2015.

Nelson Mandela Bay has the third-highest prevalence of new TB cases in the country, with 938 per 100 000 of the population. It is estimated that 14 in every 10 000 people are diagnosed with diabetes in the metro.

The majority of deaths were caused by complications due to Type 2 diabetes, a lifestyle disease caused by overweight, bad eating habits and lack of exercise. According to the report, based on death notifications made to Home Affairs, 918 of the reported 11 066 deaths in the metro (8.3%) during 2015 were due to diabetes.

This number had doubled since 2014. Formerly, TB was the leading cause of death in the metro. In 2015, 885 people (8%) died from TB in the metro, with the disease still remaining the most prevalent cause of death in the country and in the province.

The only other area in the country where diabetes deaths exceeded those from TB was Cape Town, where in 2015 there were 2 344 diabetes deaths out of a total of 31 053 (7.5%).

The latest District Health Barometer for 2015/16 also ranked the Nelson Mandela Bay metro as one of the worst districts in the country when it came to disability caused by lifestyle diseases such as diabetes.

Eastern Cape Health MEC Pumza Dyantyi said in her budget policy speech last year that high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, diabetes and chronic lower respiratory disease – all caused by unhealthy lifestyles – now jointly accounted for 20.8% of deaths in the province.

General practitioner at Circular Health in Port Elizabeth, Dr Nicolas Thackwray, explained that Type 2 diabetes occurred when the body was unable to burn or metabolise fuels efficiently.

“It can be defined as a disorder of carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism that results in high blood glucose.” He said the so-called “beer boep” – or beer belly – could have a very detrimental impact on a person’s health. “The beer boep is made up of fat cells. These fat cells are not innocently lying around, but have been shown to release hormones that worsen the way that your body metabolises food.

“So getting rid of that spare tyre will improve the way your body processes food,” he said. Thackwray said research had shown that a healthy lifestyle could actually prevent patients – even those at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes – from getting the disease.

“Some studies have shown that patients who have ‘p re - d i a b e t e s ’ [those who are at extreme risk of contracting the disease] can actually prevent diabetes through instituting these lifestyle changes.

“Recently, there are even suggestions that Type 2 diabetes can be reversed with intensive lifestyle changes, although admittedly more research is needed to substantiate this fully.” Discovery Vitality Wellness head Dr Craig Nossel said: “These findings validate our view that lifestyle disease is one of the biggest societal challenges facing South Africa.

“The impact of health behaviour and risks on individuals’ quality of life, their ability to fully participate in the workplace, and the resultant negative effect on our economic development, require a coordinated and targeted approach from all stakeholders.”

Nossel said changes in policy to promote health were needed, such as the newly announced sugar tax. “South Africans are notoriously high consumers of sugary drinks and we now count among the top 10 consumers globally.

“From a health point of view, I believe that it is a positive step to implement a tax structure that encourages product reformulation and the availability of drinks with a lower sugar content.”

Eastern Cape Health Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the department was also pinning its hopes on the sugar tax to stem the tide of diabetes. He said lifestyle diseases in the province were of great concern.

“We have launched a healthy living lifestyle campaign to deal with the challenge of these diseases.”

Top 10 natural causes of death

These are the top 10 natural causes of death for those living in Nelson Mandela Bay, according to the latest Stats SA report:

  • Diabetes
  • Tuberculosis
  • HIV
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Other forms of heart disease
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases, like pneumonia
  • Unknown causes
  • Ischaemic heart disease, including heart attacks
  • Cancer of the digestive organs Non-natural causes of death account for 10% of the total deaths in Nelson Mandela Bay.