World Diabetes Day: Tony Kelly talks dealing with Type-2 diabetes


Numerous studies have shown that in the UK, people from Black African, African Caribbean and South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi) backgrounds are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes from a younger age. Tony Kelly, a Diabetes Strategic Patient Partner is one such person. Here, he writes openly about living with diabetes, and the habits he's adopted to manage it.

Each year, 14 November is dedicated to diabetes, including promoting global awareness of this important medical illness which is often trivialized  as "just a touch of sugar" or "no big deal."  According to the latest figures from the International Diabetes Federation, 4.2 million people died from diabetes in 2019, equating to one death every eight seconds and resulting in significant economic, emotional and societal expenses. In that same year, 463 million people had diabetes and the estimated number of people with diabetes by 2045 will climb to a staggering 700 million.

There are two main types of diabetes:  Type 1 diabetes affects just 8% of people. For unexplained causes, the pancreas, a six-inch gland located beneath the abdomen that generates insulin to regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels throughout the body, ceases to function entirely. This causes the body to produce little or no insulin and causes the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood to become too high.

This has nothing to do with lifestyle, age, ethnicity, or anything else, and it happens quickly. Because the body relies on insulin, one will die without it. This means all persons with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin on a daily basis.

90% of people with diabetes have 'type 2' which is caused primarily but not exclusively by being overweight, a lack of physical activity or a family history of diabetes. In the UK, African, Caribbean and South Asian people are 2 - 4 times more likely to develop it from the age of 25, whereas White people are more likely to develop it after the age of 40. Some people with type 2 diabetes must also inject insulin and/or consume other medications orally, whilst others are able to manage it by way of physical activity and diet. Sometimes, diabetes can remain undetected in the body for up to 10 years, with none of the usual symptoms of tired, thirsty, thinner, toilet, (often referred to as the '4 T's'), unexplained weight loss, slow healing of cuts and wounds or blurred vision.

In 2019, Diabetes UK estimated that as many as 1 million people in the UK could be unaware that they were living with type-2 diabetes.

That makes it all the more important that one should have a yearly health check with a GP. Even if during the current pandemic/lockdown one is unable to have a sample of blood sent to the lab for analysis, one is able to use an alternative approach by visiting the charity Diabetes UK website which has a Know Your Risk tool that can accurately work out one’s risk.  After putting in your height, weight, waist circumference, ethnicity, age and gender it can calculate whether you are: No, Low, Medium or High risk.

If one falls in the last two categories, having entered your postcode, it will signpost you to one of the NHS approved National Diabetes Prevention Programmes being delivered in Britain over the past few years. Here, you will be placed along with others in a group either virtually or in person. Over a given period of time one is given advice from trained health care advisors on a weekly basis in order to prevent developing diabetes. Prevention is better than cure is a well-known saying that I urge all readers to take on board since diabetes has featured as one of the main comorbidities in relation to Covid-19 and the coronavirus.

Having lived with type 2 diabetes for the past 18 years - in my case hereditary - I have managed to do so without ever taking medication. Behavioural and lifestyle changes are of paramount importance and my regime includes eating a healthy well-balanced diet along with a lot of physical activity. Now in my sixties, I have recently begun individual swimming lessons after discovering that Linford Christie, Britain’s 100 metre Commonwealth, European, World and Olympic champion learnt to swim in 2020. That is motivation indeed.

Be active, keep moving, start enjoying a new hobby that will burn up the calories and eat healthily so that the complications associated with this medical condition such as strokes, blindness, heart attacks, kidney failure, lower-limb amputations and premature death are kept at bay.

Tony Kelly 

Diabetes Strategic Patient Partner – NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group, Diabetes Ambassador/Advocate