Women more prone to diabetes

With obesity being higher among women than men, epidemiologist Dr Julia Rowe Porter is theorising that this may be one reason women are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than their male counterparts.

According to statistics from the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey 2016/2017, 12 per cent of Jamaicans 15 years and older are living with diabetes — a prevalence which increases with age. Furthermore, it says women (14.6 per cent) are more affected than men (nine per cent). Diabetes is the second-leading cause of death in Jamaica and is the top-ranked cause of death for women and the third for men.

“Let us consider women and men. Women have a reproductive cycle, they get pregnant, have children, I would start there. I know, for example, breastfeeding helps women to return to their pre-pregnancy weight, but our statistics, in terms of exclusive breastfeeding, are not where we want them to be.

“So when women are more likely to become more obese for one reason or another and obesity rates are much higher in women than in men, that, in and of itself, predisposes them to developing type 2 diabetes,” she told this week’s Jamaica Observer
Monday Exchange as part of activities in observance of Diabetes Awareness Month.

In the meantime, Dr Rowe Porter said cultural norms might also be a contributor to obesity in women.

“It’s a very general statement, but when you look at childhood girls [having] to stay in the home, boys are allowed to go out. And even when you think occupationally, in terms of the types of occupation men are engaged in that may involve more physical activity than women, those factors may skew obesity towards women. There may be dietary factors as well that are different between men and women,” she pointed out.

“There is gestational diabetes, which only happens to women once the pregnancy is over. That type of diabetes disappears; however they are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later on in life if they have had gestational diabetes,” Dr Rowe Porter added.

Professor of epidemiology and endocrinology and director of the Caribbean Institute for Health Research (CAIHR) Professor Marshall Tulloch Reid, in backing Dr Rowe Porter’s hypothesis, said, “I agree because when you look at the pattern of obesity it’s almost the same pattern as the pattern you see with diabetes. And you do make the point that it’s type 2 diabetes that we are talking about because some people just brush everything as diabetes when there are different types. The one we have that is most common is type 2, which is related to obesity and physical activity because those are two big risk factors.”

Furthermore, Dr Tulloch Reid said researchers are picking up other contributing factors, such as stress and living conditions.

“And there are some things that we don’t understand, which is why research is important to try and figure out what is really driving it, because a lot of times when we do our surveys we are doing everything at one time, so we are looking at the population, you go to a particular person you are looking at their weight, their blood sugar, and what else at the same time, but you can’t really tell what was there first. So, in other words, is it that they are obese or they are living in a particular condition or they have a lot of stress, these are the things we need to unpack,” he said.

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