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This man is urging people to take back control of diabetes

DIET: Tony Kelly champions healthy eating to manage diabetes

DIABETES UK and the NHS’ Clinical Commissioning Group in Birmingham and
Solihull want to recruit 80 community champion volunteers for the Second City within a year to help address the growing incidence of the medical condition.

There are two forms of diabetes: Type 1, in which sufferers cannot produce the insulin which converts carbohydrates in the body to glucose or sugar, while many of those with the Type 2 strain, developed due to inactivity and an unhealthy diet.

Public health experts believe that the number of people with Type 2 diabetes could increase from its current 3.7 million to ve million by 2035.

A recent report found that 500 people are dying prematurely every week in England and Wales with diabetes.

The National Diabetes Audit report also said those aged between 35 and 64 with Type 1 diabetes were three to four times more likely to die prematurely than those without the medical condition.

Those in the same age range with Type 2 diabetes were up to twice as likely to die prematurely. Diabetes UK believes many of the deaths, caused by complications such as heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, stroke or amputations, could have been avoided if patients were supported to manage their condition effectively.

The charity says the condition costs more than £10 billion a year to treat and affects more people than dementia and cancer combined. Experts fear that within 12 years, treating Type 2 diabetes could consume NHS England’s entire current £115 billion annual budget.

“I have been a community champion volunteer since June 2012,” said Tony Kelly, a retired Birmingham-based equality and diversity manager, who lives with the condition.

He told The Voice: “In December 2004 my wife noticed the four key symptoms of diabetes commonly referred to as the four Ts – tired, toilet, thirsty and thinner. She kept saying that something was wrong. As a typical man I was in denial.

“After a period of time, I plucked up courage and visited my GP who I had not seen in nearly 10 years as I always prided myself on being t and healthy. A urine sample revealed a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes and a blood test result confirmed my worst fears.

“Having witnessed first hand the five complications of strokes, blindness, heart attacks, kidney failure and limb amputations all inflicted on relatives in Jamaica as a child growing up there since it runs in my family, I made the decision not to experience any of that.

“The doctors and nurses in my family encouraged me to join Diabetes UK as a member when I was diagnosed. The statistics show that black people are up to four times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes and from the age of 25 as opposed to age 40 among white people.

“So for 14 years with a healthy balanced diet and physical activity, I have never taken any medication for my Type 2 diabetes which demands a motivated and disciplined approach along with lots of encouragement from my family.”

This approach includes plenty of walking, choosing the stairs over lifts or escalators, pilates, yoga, zumba, gardening and aquarobics. Kelly also has annual eye tests, which are free for diabetes patients.

In 2012, he was approached by Shaleen Sandhu of Diabetes UK after giving an address at a diabetes book launch in Wolverhampton and was invited to become one of its community champion volunteers. Kelly has since taken on scores of en- gagement appointments – over 60 in 2016, 120 last year and 124 so far in 2018.
These include sharing his experiences with fourth year medical students from Birming- ham University Medical School during placements.
As part of an ongoing awareness-raising drive, Kelly engages with a wide range of community, faith and activity groups across the region, and as far a eld as the Caribbean.
“While I have enjoyed go- ing to the Caribbean to raise awareness of diabetes and pre- ventative measures, it has been heartbreaking to see people affected by blindness, strokes and heart attacks, and having to have limbs amputated when greater preventative care could be taken and the symptoms managed better.

“Jamaica, St Lucia, Belize and Dominica are four Commonwealth countries where avoidable blindness from diabetes is rampant, and where The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Trust along with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are working to address this.

“It is important for people to realise that diabetes is a medical condition and not a disease, also that many of us could be contributing to it because of our diets, without knowing it.

“Many of us eat a lot of carbohydrates – rice, potatoes, hard dough bread, and yam – which all break down into glucose. It can affect anyone and it can lie dormant in the body for 10 years.”

Diabetes UK believes that 12 million people in the UK are leading lives that are increasing the risk of them being diagnosed with diabetes.

Kelly concluded: “I remain passionate and committed about getting the health and well-being message across to all communities pertaining to diabetes as I am living proof that one can avoid the medical route for a long while."

For more information on becoming a Diabetes UK Community Champion Volunteer, email Tony at

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