When Jaybee Serrano suffered sudden neck pain four years ago, he went straight to the emergency room at Blacktown Hospital.
- Diabetes is the leading cause of heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and kidney disease
- Exercise and a healthy diet reduce your risk of developing the disease
- Sydney’s western suburbs are home to the highest number of residents with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Doctors carried out a routine test and found that the 34-year-old’s blood sugar was alarmingly high.
“Diabetes is a silent killer,” Mr. Serrano said.
“Most of my family members have diabetes and some have certainly passed away due to diabetes-related complications.”
He lives in a hotspot for the disease.
Of the 219,000 residents of Greater Sydney who have both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, 65% live in the western suburbs of the city, according to the latest census data.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can be inherited diseases, but type 2 can also be influenced by a person’s lifestyle.
Doctors warn that diabetes is the leading cause of heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, kidney disease and preventable blindness, as well as dementia and some cancers.
The pain in Mr Serrano’s neck was transient, but the revelation that he was pre-diabetic forced him to make tough lifestyle decisions.
Together with his GP, he started cutting out foods like rice and bread and getting more exercise by playing basketball.
Within three months, his blood sugar levels improved – and he continued his work to make sure it stayed that way.
“I want to be healthy for myself and for my two boys,” he said.
Glen Maberly, senior endocrinologist at Blacktown and Mount Druitt hospitals, is the director of Western Sydney Diabetes, an organization trying to coordinate a response to the widespread disease.
He said the true number of people with diabetes was likely higher than what the census estimated.
“You can have diabetes and not know it,” he said.
“But all of a sudden the catastrophic thing is going to happen, and you’re going to end up with a heart attack in the hospital, and it’s not silent.
“Or, you’ll end up with an amputation, or you’ll end up on dialysis with a kidney replacement.”
He said there were three main reasons diabetes rates were higher in western Sydney: unhealthy food options, less space to exercise and greater ethnic diversity likely to develop it.
In 2016, Western Sydney Diabetes partnered with Price Waterhouse Cooper to calculate the economic consequences of diabetes in the region, including state and federal government costs, out-of-pocket expenses, lost productivity and societal costs.
They found that the economic hit for an average patient with type 2 diabetes is $16,124 per year.
In total, this means that the high rate of diabetes in Western Sydney costs $1.48 billion a year.
Dr. Maberly said the best way to prevent type 2 diabetes is to eat healthy foods and exercise.
“However, if we want to reverse diabetes, we have to see it as a bigger problem.”
After 20 years of living with type 2 diabetes, Russell Ashley still struggles to stick to a strict diet and exercise regimen.
If the 69-year-old from Blacktown doesn’t stay on top of his blood sugar levels, activities such as walking and driving will leave him exhausted.
He has to go to the bathroom more often and his cuts take longer to heal.
“If I don’t take [medication]so I don’t have control of my whole body,” he said.
“It can be debilitating, very debilitating.”
The Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue said better city planning could also solve the problem.
“The sad reality is – for many of these families and residents – that they have better access to a KFC or a McDonalds than to a playground or a park,” said Adam Leto, director of the non-profit organisation. think tank, said.