Partha Kar

Sugar Tax & obesity: relationship with diabetes needs explaining

So, what do we think of the Sugar Tax? Let’s get this straight from the outset – it’s a good move and should be applauded.

Whatever your views about them as individuals, the campaigning work done by Jamie Oliver and Dr Aseem Malhotra deserves our admiration, even if it may be grudging.

NHS England supremo Simon Stevens, again, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but with his backing of the sugar tax and prevention programmes, at least, he has shown a commitment to try and do something.

One could pick holes in it, but if you take a step back obesity is a massive issue.

As someone who looks after a lot of Type 2 Diabetes patients, well done for making it happen. The next steps will be crucial to see the tangible benefits and there will be a consultation period.

The issue? We can’t say the system does nothing then spend energy and time berating them for trying something at least.

Now to an issue which has been a reflection of the times. The media have gone heavy on it….”sugar causes diabetes”.

Firstly, the facts, obesity is linked to Type 2 diabetes, but it doesn’t “cause” it. It certainly doesn’t cause Type 1 Diabetes, neither does it cause any of the genetic types.

It’s perhaps a bit easier for me to observe this from a neutral position as I don’t have any form of diabetes at the moment but fully appreciate the angst the association it generates.

If you have Type 2, the instinctive assumption is you have had “too many cakes” when it may not be factually or scientifically correct. If you have Type 1, it certainly is enough to make you angry. If you have a genetic type of diabetes, you can only sigh.

Maybe it isn’t right to blame the media. They catch on to perceptions held by many.

Patients try their utmost to explain but my question is what does the NHS do to allay that opinion. Let’s look at the National Diabetes Prevention Programme. It’s a laudable project, but where is the distinction? For anyone who hasn’t read medicine etc, the message is that diabetes is preventable. If we are saying Type 2 is preventable, why haven’t we, as a system, specified that?

Where were all the big guns of diabetes care when the name came along? Did they forget to represent all the other types? For that matter, where indeed was I? The fault may not be with others.

How about the title of “National Clinical Director of Diabetes & Obesity”? Again, a great role and some amazingly laudable work being done, but if I was a media person, is it too much to make the association that diabetes and obesity are interchangeable?

We, as a system, accepted that, so why blame media now? You can call them ill-informed but before that, the misinformation sits with us.

As providers and commissioners, it’s about language, it’s about responsibility and it’s about doing what is right.

In 2016, my attitude has been pretty simple: let’s try together. If mistakes are made, correct them as best as you can, but most importantly work as a collective.

We, as specialists, are the sole voice within the system to improve things. It should be patients but unfortunately it’s still a rarity. We have perhaps moved from the total disregard to a cursory presence on some boards. We still have a job to be an advocate for patients, help raise awareness and clear up the misconceptions.

Much to be done and it’s time to be calm, work together and do so one step at a time.

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