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World Diabetes Day 2019: Op-ED: Exploring lifestyle modification for diabetes prevention

18 November 2019


Dr Mohammed Auwal Ibrahim

This article is supported by public engagement grants from the Wellcome Trust. However, the views expressed in it are those of the author alone - and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wellcome Trust. 


Although public attention is largely focused on the use of drugs for the treatment and management of diabetes, studies have shown that lifestyle modification with physical activity such as brisk walk, bicycling, and jogging can help prevent the onset of the disease - as they say: "prevention is better than cure."

Today November 14, the global community including United Nations agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), observed the 2019 World Diabetes Day (WDD). In case you`re wondering what this day is all about; the World Diabetes Day is an annual awareness creation day that aims to draw global attention to the negative consequences of diabetes on human life.


The history of the World Diabetes Day dates back to 1991, when the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) dedicated November 14th every year – the birthday of Sir Fredrick Banting, who co-discovered insulin along with Charles Best in 1922 – as a day to promote the importance of taking coordinated and concerted actions towards tackling diabetes as a critical public health issue around the world. However, it officially became a United Nations day with the passage of a resolution in 2006.


This year`s World Diabetes Day is themed: “Diabetes and Family,” focused on raising global awareness of the impact of diabetes on the family, as well as on the support network of those affected by the disease. Thus, it is only sensible that we are able to understand the nexus between the treatment and management of diabetes and its social, financial, and economic implications on affected families.

Covid 19

In Nigeria alone, about 3 million people are suffering from diabetes according to the Diabetes Association of Nigeria, while hundreds of thousands of deaths are attributable to the disease. Meanwhile, according to the International Diabetes Federation, the average cost of diabetes management in Nigeria is about $240 USD (approx. 86, 000 naira) per annum, with more than half of Nigeria`s population living below $2 USD  (approx. 720 naira) per day thus; the use of drugs such as metformin, glibenclamide and gliptins in the treatment of the disease is unrealistic for many diabetic patients in Nigeria. Hence, the treatment and management of diabetes causes a huge financial strain on most Nigerian families affected by the disease. Consequently, this huge financial burden contributes to the increasing level of poverty among the families of those affected.

Although public attention is largely focused on the treatment and management of diabetes, studies have shown that the use of preventive strategies could be a far-better option than the treatment of the disease itself. Sadly, according to reports, most scientific research on diabetes in Africa are largely focused on treatment and management options of diabetes rather than looking at possible ways of preventing the disease. Hence, there`s a need for African scientists and the general public to re-focus attention to some of the preventive options that are available to us.

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the pancreas – an organ of the body –  is no longer able to produce insulin a chemical substance that enables glucose from the food we consume to enter into the cells, from the blood stream, and produce energy for our body.  Studies have shown that environmental and genetic factors are responsible for the development of diabetes, but it is evident that the most influential risk factors of diabetes include lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, diet, lack of physical activity, stress, and sedentary lifestyle, among others.

Additionally, scientific reports from most parts of the world including China (Da Qing study), Finland (Finnish diabetes prevention study), USA (US diabetes prevention program), Japan (Japanese lifestyle intervention study), and India (Indian diabetes prevention program) have clearly demonstrated the tremendous benefits of the use of lifestyle intervention strategies in the prevention of diabetes. Most notably, moderate to vigorous intensity physical activities are highly recommended. Adults (18 years and above) should engage in 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity and/or aerobic physical activity (or a combination of both) per week. Examples of moderate intensity physical activities are brisk walk, bicycling, and jogging on one hand, while vigorous intensity exercise include running, swimming, and playing soccer on the other hand. All these activities are cost-free; thus, cheaper and easily available for the prevention of diabetes.

No doubt, research has shown that a combination of preventive strategies: lifestyle modification and physical activity can delay or prevent the onset of diabetes.  Hence, the prevention of diabetes, rather than the treatment the disease could go a long way in improving the livelihoods of families affected by diabetes and consequently help to reduce poverty levels in Nigeria.

Mohammed Auwal Ibrahim (PhD) is a biochemist at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria-Nigeria. Ibrahim is a 2019 African Science Literacy Network (ASLN) fellow; he was one of the scientists trained by the ASLN`s initiative. Read more about Ibrahim here.


1. International Diabetes Federation (

2. Kolb, H and Martin, S. (2017); BMC Medicine, 151:131

3. Galaviz et al. (2018); American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 12: 1-20

4. Ibrahim et al., (2014); Acta Pharmaceutica, 64: 311-324

5. Ibrahim et al., (2019); International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, 122: 104-114

6. Ibrahim et al., (2019); Protein and Peptide Letters, 26: 403-413


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