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Charity warns lockdown inactivity worsens conditions for people with diabetes

Johnny Bugeja

Inactivity due to lockdown restrictions earlier this year has seen people with diabetes report worsening conditions, Diabetes Gibraltar said, as it stressed research has shown diabetics tend to fair worse when infected with Covid-19.

The charity underscored the need for socially distanced exercise and a healthy diet for diabetics who have been inactive over the past months, adding that 8% of the local population is diabetic.

Karon Mifsud from Diabetes Gibraltar and a retired GHA diabetes nurse told the Chronicle that when diabetics catch coronavirus, they are more at risk of developing complications and the severe illness caused by Covid-19.

She said a large percentage of people who have more severe symptoms are diabetics and this data follows research carried out by Diabetes UK.

“Of all the people in the UK that have died from Covid a third of them were diabetics and in the UK there’s only about 6.5% of the population that are diabetic,” Mrs Mifsud said.

“So there is a big proportion of those with diabetes who are dying.”

Mrs Mifsud said that diabetics tend to have a higher risk of having cardiovascular illnesses and strokes and kidney problems.

“That generally means that their cardiovascular system is a little bit weakened, so when they have another infection on top they are debilitated in that area,” Mrs Mifsud said.

“No matter what infection diabetics get they often take longer to fight off that infection.”

“From the research that is being done with deaths, they have found that most of the people who have died from Covid had a higher sugar level than average.”

“If you have diabetes and you are really well controlled and you have your sugar level within normal levels you are less likely to suffer from severe Covid illness.”

She added that diabetics are more likely to have a severe flu or cold, and the same has happened with Covid-19.

The month of November marks Diabetes Awareness Month, but due to Covid-19 all the charity’s events have been cancelled.

For the charity raising awareness of diabetes is particularly important in the local community as the prevalence of diabetes is higher than in the UK.

In the UK around 6.5% of the population are diabetics, while in Gibraltar around this figure rests at around 8% and Mrs Mifsud said this year has seen an increase in numbers locally as well as an increase in obesity.

Mrs Mifsud said there are certain nationality groups more likely to develop diabetes, which includes Mediterranean people, but added that lifestyle and diet does make a large difference.

She added that prevention and awareness is key for diabetics.

“It’s an illness where people need to be reminded of how serious an illness it can be and how important it is to actually look after yourself, follow the guidelines and have control of your blood sugar,” she said.

Some 90% of diabetics have Type 2 diabetes, Mrs Mifsud said, with Type 2 tending to be diagnosed later on in life.

Lockdown earlier on this year saw over 70s told to stay at home and self-isolate and Mrs Mifsud said this could have demotivated people from exercising, while simultaneously tempted people to eat more.

“Unfortunately if you have diabetes, if you are obese or you put on weight it can increase your blood sugar,” she said.

“The reason we have so many with Type 2 diabetes at the moment is because the population is becoming overweight and obese.”

Mrs Mifsud added there is a general trend that the prevalence of diabetes has got worse in lockdown.

“The advice would be that despite the restrictions you have to look for things that you can do while keeping yourselves safe, but also taking advantage of any opportunities to exercise,” she said.

She encouraged people to exercise safely, ensuring that they are separate from others or stay within their social bubble.

She also encouraged those over 70 and at risk to make use of silver and golden time.

“Generally they know what they should eat, it’s just a case of doing it and basically not to be tempted by trying to fill your time with something else,” she said.

“As you get older if you do put on weight its more difficult to then lose it again.”

For the charity, Covid-19 has also been a difficult time as their premises on Line Wall Road has been closed for months.

The centre used to be open for people to test their blood sugar and discuss concerns.

Many of the activities planned for the year have been cancelled, but the charity aims to continue to raise awareness particularly during this month.

The Moorish Castle will also be lit up from Thursday, November 12 to Sunday, November 15 to mark their awareness campaign.