Cycling to inspire, empower diabetics in UAE

Image Courtesy Khaleej Times

It’s not just some of the world’s elite cyclists who will take the city by storm, competing in this week’s Dubai Tour. There’s also a group of multi-national riders aiming not just to have a podium finish for its best sprinters but is also pedalling with “an inspiring message of hope for the country’s many diabetics.”

Team Novo Nordisk, the world’s first all-diabetic professional cyclists, are competing for the third straight year in the ­Dubai Tour, which begins today with an 181km opening stage from Dubai International Marine Club to Palm Jumeirah. The team’s mission is “to inspire, educate and empower everyone affected by diabetes to show that people can still pursue their dreams.”

“We’re here to bust the myth that diabetes is a limiting factor,” Australian cyclist Chris Williams, 35, who has Type 1 diabetes, told Khaleej Times on the eve of the race. “We’re professional cyclists first and foremost, so we’re here to win. But the goal of the team is a lot different from everyone else: We’re here to encourage, educate and inspire people around the world that are affected by diabetes to show that they don’t have to give up on their goals and they can achieve their dreams like we have.”

The team, founded by Phil Southerland who was born with type 1 diabetes, has been racing in major tours around the world, inspiring people to take up cycling as a way of reducing the risks of diabetes resulting from sedentary and poor lifestyle.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are around 422 million people who are diabetic worldwide. This figure is expected to go up to 642 million by 2040. In the region, 35.4 million suffer from diabetes and by 2040, the number is projected to rise to 72.1 million.

In the UAE alone, 14.6 per cent adult population or 1,086,300 people are diabetic. But the country is determined to reduce incidences of the disease from 19 per cent of the population to 16 per cent by 2021.

“Diabetes is one of today’s most pressing healthcare challenges in the Middle East,” said Mads Bo Larsen, corporate vice-president of Novo Nordisk.

The message of hope, according to Williams, is to show to people that diabetes is not a hindrance in life. He said: Diabetes is very much a juggling act – you have to know how many carbs you take and manage your time to have physical activities or exercise. You have your good days and bad days and you always learn from them. But our lives as cyclists are no different from other athletes who have healthy pancreas that produce insulin for their body. Basically we’re cyclists that have diabetes and we’re not diabetics that cycle.”

Unsweetened statistics

> 14.6% of the adult population, or 1,086,300 people in the UAE have diabetes, according to International Diabetes Federation

> The UAE is determined to reduce incidence of the disease from 19% to 16% by 2021

> $673 billion, or 12% of the global healthcare spend is on diabetes

> In 2012, an estimated 1.5m deaths were directly caused by diabetes and another 2.2 million deaths were attributable to high blood glucose

> Almost half of all deaths attributable to high blood glucose occur before the age of 70

> WHO projects that diabetes will be the 7th leading cause of death by 2030



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