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Diabetes Called a Growing Worldwide Epidemic

This year's World Diabetes Day observance, the first recognized by the U.N., centers on children. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Today is World Diabetes Day, part of a campaign to urge governments to do more to fight the disease. Organizers warn of a diabetes epidemic affecting two hundred forty-six million people worldwide.

Last December the United Nations passed a resolution to observe World Diabetes Day every November fourteenth. The International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organization began the event in nineteen ninety-one. The federation is an alliance of diabetes groups. It also has partnerships with drug companies.

People with diabetes have too much glucose, or sugar, in their blood. The body changes food into glucose for energy with the help of insulin, a hormone. In diabetics, the body produces little or no insulin or has trouble using the insulin that is produced.

As a result, too much glucose remains in the blood instead of entering cells. Over time, the disease can cause blindness, kidney disease and nerve damage. It also can lead to strokes and heart disease.

People with type one diabetes need insulin injections. Many with type two do not. Instead, it can be controlled through diet, exercise and treatment. And people may be able to prevent it.

This year's World Diabetes Day campaign is about children and adolescents. One of the organizers is Doctor Francine Kaufman. She traveled around the world for a film called "Diabetes: A Global Epidemic." The Discovery Health Channel will show it on Sunday.

Type two diabetes used to appear mostly in adults, but now more and more children have it. Doctor Kaufman says it is spreading as more people rise out of poverty in developing countries -- for example, India.

FRANCINE KAUFMAN: "They’re in cars all day long, and they’ve got satellite dishes outside their houses. They are eating more food, and more westernized food and getting overweight and developing diabetes."

She says another place where diabetes is spreading is South Africa.

FRANCINE KAUFMAN: "We were in the townships and people were overweight. There is more food available than has been in the past. And people are getting on buses and going to offices and not necessarily being as physically active as they have been in the past.”

Doctor Kaufman says solutions must be developed country by country and patient by patient. In Brazil, for example, a health clinic holds dances to get diabetes patients more active. Doctor Kaufman says the message of World Diabetes Day is that the disease is manageable and, in the case of type two diabetes, preventable.

And that’s the VOA Special English Health Report. I'm Barbara Klein.