Diabetes study launched amid concern that Bajans are overweight
Health authorities have welcomed a pilot study that aims to reverse Type 2 diabetes in Barbadians, saying it could make inroads into the diabetic epidemic facing the country.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Joy St John described the Barbados Diabetes Reversal Study as a “novel intervention”.
“The Barbadian diet is frequently too high in salt, sugar and fat with a high percentage of calories coming from carbohydrate sources. Furthermore, fruit and vegetable consumption, although showing some slight improvement, remains low. It is believed that these factors may be contributing to the heavy chronic disease burden, including diabetes, hypertension and some cancers,” she said during the launch of the study on Saturday at the office of the Diabetes Association of Barbados.
Dr St John disclosed that the prevalence of diabetes in adults had increased two per cent within the last six years, bringing the overall figure to more than 18 per cent.
She said an estimated two-thirds of all adult Barbadians were either overweight and, or, obese while this stood at 30 per cent among secondary schools students.
“This study is therefore extremely timely as we strengthen our approach to prevention and control of diabetes. I am fully aware that this study will take place using high ethical standards and Barbadians can feel confident in the integrity of the study results,” she said.
The study, funded by Virgin Unite – the non-profit arm of the Virgin Group – will target 25 people, who have been diagnosed with the disease in the past six years.
It seeks to build on research conducted in the United Kingdom by Professor Roy Taylor, who found in 2011 that Type 2 diabetes can be reversed by adopting a low calorie diet, followed by weight maintenance.
Dr Taylor, who was present for the launch, said his expectations from the study were two-fold.
“We know there are differences in the way the human body stores fat that differ in white Caucasians from African Caribbean people. There are some metabolic differences. So, we need to ask this question,‘is it going to be the same?’ We can’t assume so we need to find out,” he said.
“The second thing is more subtle. We’re dealing with something very human here. We’ve heard a lot about diets and there are all kinds of diets but one thing that folks often miss out on is that to every diet there’s attached a human and it’s that interaction with that person that really determines what happens. So, how about in Barbados society, how will it be accepted by family of people losing weight. That’s not always seen as a good thing.”
Founder of the Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson, who has lived in the Caribbean around 40 years, explained his interest in the study.
“Up until a year or two ago, it was assumed that if you had diabetes it was for life and almost inevitably your life would be shortened. I’ve seen people in the Caribbean losing legs and limbs from their diabetes and it’s a miserable thing to be told that you’ve got,” Sir Richard said.
“When I read about Professor Roy Taylor’s work in the UK it just got me excited, the idea that possibly you could reverse diabetes and actually get your body back to normality again. So I contacted Professor Roy Taylor and asked whether it might be possible to conduct a study in the Caribbean to see whether a diet could be put together that was similar to the diet he put together in the UK, but with a Caribbean difference.
“If it works here in Barbados there’s no reason it shouldn’t work throughout the rest of the Caribbean. We’re really looking at a similar study in the British Virgin Islands. Once those two studies have been done we’ll know exactly what is the diet that can work in the Caribbean and hopefully thousands of people who are diabetic today can go back to normality.”
Those who volunteer for the study will be given a low-calorie liquid diet over an eight-week period, along with non-starchy vegetables, accompanied by medical support.
Organizers say the diet will include all vitamins and minerals needed and will be provided at no cost to the participants.This will be followed by a six-month period, during which a normal healthy diet will resume. The participants would be given monthly support to maintain a healthy diet and to exercise regularly.
The officials said they decided to commence the programme during the week of January 26, 2015 rather than Christmas because of the temptation associated with the food around that season.
Asked if volunteers should reduce their eating during the period, the officials indicated those interested could enjoy as much food as they wanted.
Residents interested in participating in the study are asked to contact email@example.com or 266 5673.