Auckland couple tackling health risks with Diabetes New Zealand advice kit

By Martin Johnston

David Onekawa and his wife Lenise Onekawa. Photo / Supplied
David Onekawa and his wife Lenise Onekawa. Photo / Supplied

Dave and Lenise Onekawa's family carries a heavy of burden of diabetes - and they are doing something about it.

Lenise, aged 49 and weighing 90kg, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 20 years ago, and both of her elderly parents have the disease.

Dave, 55 years old and 124kg, has "pre-diabetes" - he is at risk of developing the disease which caused his adoptive father's death.

The couple, who have a 26-year-old daughter and sons aged 25 and 17 but no grandchildren, moved back to New Zealand from Sydney in March, after the private tertiary education provider for which they worked in sales went into voluntary receivership.

The switch to a slower pace of life in Auckland's Manurewa, as they look for a business to buy, has proved the catalyst for sorting their health.

"As I'm getting older," said Lenise, "I'm realising I want to be around for my children and my grandchildren.

And I don't want to be having any of my limbs amputated or to go on dialysis."

"Sydney - it was so fast. We didn't have time to think about our own health, it was such a rat race."

With the help of a "toolkit" of advice from Diabetes NZ, they have renewed their focus on having a healthy diet and getting some physical activity.

Reducing the amount of food on their plates has been key - as well as upping their vegetable intake and cutting back on carbs, especially in drinks.

Sugary fizz is off the menu and water is on.

For dinner tonight they were planning some snapper and roast kumara with broccoli, carrots and salad greens.

They go for a daily 30-minute walk and have planted a vegetable garden.

"Dave is so motivated when it comes to getting out there and walking; he's awesome."

Diabetes NZ has declared November to be "diabetes action month", to help people cope with the disease and to draw attention to what it says is New Zealand's fastest-growing health crisis.

It says 40 people a day are diagnosed with diabetes.

"More than 260,000 people in New Zealand have diabetes; the prevalence has doubled in the past 10 years."

Diabetes is a group of diseases that results in high blood sugar levels because the body produces too little or no insulin, or because cells are not responding properly to insulin.

Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and New Zealand's rate of adult obesity, at 31 per cent, is more than triple what it was in the 1970s and continues to grow.

Diabetes NZ today launched its online support and self-management toolkit, called "Take Control".

"There is a real need to help people with diabetes to live well," said the support group's chief executive Steve Crew.

"The reality of diabetes, and the complications associated with it, can be consuming.

"It is not only a drain on our health system, it is incredibly life-changing and life-limiting for people living with diabetes - and that can lead to stress and anxiety and poor self-care."

A survey for Diabetes NZ asked found that fewer than half of people with the disease felt in control of their condition, and a third said it had a negative effect on their mental well-being.

"Living well is something people with diabetes battle to do on their own," Mr Crew said.

"A third struggle with eating healthy meals, and almost 40 per cent struggle to be motivated and do physical activity. Diabetes New Zealand wants to change that."

The toolkit will offer a range of more than 60 online materials that Diabetes NZ members can access. It will contain advice and information across three categories: Food & Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Health & Well-being.

There will also be tools for friends and loved ones supporting someone with diabetes, ways to involve the family, as well as recipes - including some from NZ MasterChef winner Brett MacGregor - and short physical activity workouts featuring Shortland Street cast members to do in the TV ad breaks.

In the lead-up to diabetes action month the toolkit was tested among diabetics and the results were encouraging, Mr Crew said.

The 12 people - 10 with type 2 diabetes, one with pre-diabetes and one with type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune disorder - had committed to using the toolkit for 12 weeks. They had fitness and medical assessments done at the start and half-way points, and their physical activity is being monitored by Fitbit activity trackers.

Already they had felt empowered to make significant changes - "and, importantly, lifestyle improvements", Mr Crew said.

All had reported increasing their physical activity, upping their fruit and vegetable intake while monitoring their carbs, and reducing portion sizes. They had either reduced or were reducing junk food, and swapped sugary drinks for water.

The survey also asked people, including those with diabetes, about taxes on fat and sugar. Nearly three-quarters of fast-food consumers said they would trim their intake if the Government imposed a fat tax.

Sugar-drink tax
• 39% of New Zealanders would change their fizzy drink habits with a sugar tax.
• 19% might buy fizzy drinks less often with a 20% tax. A further 20% might alter their buying habits with a 25% tax.
• 36% said a 50% tax might alter their buying habits.

Fast-food fat tax
• 73% of fast food buyers might reduce their buying frequency with a fat tax.
• 14% would stop buying altogether with a fat tax.
• 24% said a 20% tax might alter their buying habits. A further 28% said the tax would need to be 25%.

Source: Perceptive Research survey of 1004 people, including 77 with diabetes, in September

- NZ Herald

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