What Scotland can learn from former fast-food capital of US – Catherine Calderwood

How many Easter eggs is too many? With Easter holidays upon us and Easter Sunday fast approaching, many of us will be asking ourselves that very question. It’s important to note that in Scotland, two thirds of us are overweight or obese and over five per cent of us have type 2 diabetes, writes Catherine Calderwood.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 4th April 2019, 7:00 am
Too much fast food and too many Easter Eggs can ultimately lead to type 2 diabetes (Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Too much fast food and too many Easter Eggs can ultimately lead to type 2 diabetes (Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Is this something to worry about? The short answer is yes.

Type 2 diabetes is potentially a preventable and reversible disease. Approximately 90 per cent of cases are linked to being overweight or obese.

The consequences of type 2 diabetes include an increased risk of serious health problems such as kidney failure, blindness, amputation and premature death – so it is vitally important we try and tackle this major health problem with a degree of urgency.

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The Scottish Government is certainly taking it seriously and the framework “A Healthier Future: type 2 diabetes prevention, early detection and intervention” outlines Scotland’s ambition to tackle arguably the biggest health challenge of our time. However, if this initiative is to be successful, we need to consider whether preventing type 2 diabetes is a medical issue, a societal one or both.

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It is important not to over-medicalise type 2 diabetes and simply throw drugs at it, or to blame it on an individual’s poor lifestyle choices. Yes, type 2 diabetes may require medical treatment and yes, all of us have to take individual responsibility for what we eat and how much physical activity we take, but we also need to consider how we as a society tackle this issue.

How do we, within our communities, individually and collectively, ensure that our environment is conducive to safe and enjoyable exercise and play. How do we ensure that healthier food choices become the norm and move away from our ‘wee treat’ of a chocolate bar or takeaway meal.

Scotland is often labeled the “sick man of Europe”. If we are to change that then maybe we should look to Oklahoma City for inspiration.

In 2007, it was regarded as the fast-food capital of America and had some of the highest obesity rates in the US.

The mayor then challenged the citizens of Oklahoma City to lose 1,000,000 pounds in weight. So began a societal initiative to help with healthy eating and supporting an active lifestyle.

By 2012, they achieved their goal. They are now seeing a decrease in deaths due to heart attacks and strokes, demonstrating that with the correct vision, support and determination success is achievable.

Another reason for optimism is that Scotland, along with Newcastle, has been leading the way in trying to improve the outcomes in those with established type 2 diabetes.

A recent study demonstrated that if individuals with type 2 diabetes, of recent onset, lost over 10kg in weight, then two thirds went into remission and managed to stop all their diabetes medications.

This is a truly remarkable result and highlights the reversible nature of type 2 diabetes, if detected early and if individuals can be supported to address their lifestyle and lose weight.

Now is the time to ask ourselves how we can turn the tide and lead the way for preventing type 2 diabetes.

Maybe just one Easter egg this year then.

Catherine Calderwood is Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer and is on Twitter @CathCalderwood1