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Chocs away! Air cadets ditch sweets for fruit to beat diabetes

Idea developed by Mid-Nottinghamshire Alliance takes off nationwide


Sherwood Forest Hospitals diabetes consultant Dr Sarb Sihota talks to air cadets about how healthy diet can help tackle diabetes

Sherwood Forest Hospitals diabetes consultant Dr Sarb Sihota (seated right) congratulates Squadron Leader Ian Marshall and (from left) cadets Flight Sergeant Alex White, Flight Sergeant George Endsor and Corporal Alice Hayward-Wills on their work to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.


March 8, 2017

Air Training Cadets across the UK are giving up chocolates and sweets in an attempt to defuse the so-called diabetes time-bomb.

Squadron canteens up and down the country are to be stripped of high-sugar foods, which will be replaced by fruit and healthier snacks – and it’s all thanks to an idea developed by Mid-Nottinghamshire Better Together Alliance – a partnership of NHS, social care and voluntary sector teams in Mansfield, Ashfield and Newark and Sherwood.

More than 3.2m people in the UK have already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and the number is expected to continue rising unless there are drastic changes in lifestyle to save today’s young people from becoming the patients of tomorrow. 

In Nottinghamshire, December 2015 figures indicate that 33% of people aged between 16 and 24 are overweight or obese.

As well as requiring medication and possible regular injections of insulin to control type 2 diabetes the condition can lead to: 

  • Ulcers, infections and amputation of feet and lower limbs due to damaged circulation and damage to nerves affecting sensation
  • Damage to the heart and blood vessels with increased risk of heart disease and strokes
  • Damage to the eyes, which can lead to blindness
  • Greater risk of kidney disease.

Mid-Nottinghamshire Better Together Alliance includes Sherwood Forest Hospitals, Mansfield and Ashfield and Newark and Sherwood Clinical Commissioning Groups, Nottinghamshire County Council and voluntary sector groups.

It was set up to create better co-ordinated and longer-term solutions to health and social care challenges and one of its project taskforces – specialist nurses, GP practice staff, hospital consultants, social care and the voluntary sector – is developing a ten-year plan to bring about a long-term reduction in type 2 diabetes.

As well as representing the charity and voluntary sector umbrella group called Team, taskforce member Ian Marshall is an Air Training Cadet Squadron Leader (126  City of Derby Squadron).

He said: “To have a long-term impact on the numbers developing this long-term and potentially devastating illness, it was important to catch people before they become too set in their ways to be able to change their lifestyles.

“Long-term success relies on changing behaviour of young people today so that they don’t develop type 2 diabetes in the first place.

“My daughter was studying nutrition and gave them a talk that inspired six cadets to redesign our canteen and the menu – ditching the cans of pop, chocolate and sweets – and encouraged others to increase the amount of exercise they do.

“They really took to it and our national leader, Commandant Air Commodore Dawn McCafferty, was so impressed that it is now going national.

“That’s 40,000 teenagers and 12,000 adults being offered a package of measures to get them eating more healthily and exercising.”

People with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin. About 10 per cent of people with diabetes have Type 1. No one knows exactly what causes it, but it’s not to do with being overweight and it isn’t currently preventable.

People with type 2 diabetes don’t produce enough insulin or the insulin they produce doesn’t work properly. 85 to 90 per cent of people with diabetes have Type 2. They might get Type 2 diabetes because of their family history, age and ethnic background puts them at increased risk. They are also more likely to get Type 2 diabetes if they are overweight. 

Sherwood Forest Hospitals Diabetes consultant, Dr Sarb Sihota, said: “The cadets are taking exactly the right action. The impact of type 2 diabetes can be devastating – increasing the chances of heart disease and strokes, blindness, leg ulcers and even amputation due to poor circulation.

“Although ethnic background, family history and age can influence risk, lifestyle changes through more exercise, a better diet and maintaining a normal weight can have a significant impact on preventing type 2 diabetes. 

“It may not be a problem for them now, but the risk may increase as they get older and they could easily become patients of tomorrow.  The increasing numbers of patients with diabetes would also add to the growing pressures on the health and social care system.” 

Figures from NHS Digital, published as part of the Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme being rolled out across the East Midlands, show:

  • One in 16 people in Nottinghamshire has type 2 diabetes
  • Numbers in Nottinghamshire have risen from 42,897 in 2010-2011 to 53,643 in 2015-2016 – a rise of 25.1% in five years
  • Across the UK, 4.5 million people have diabetes - mainly type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle
  • The cost nationally of treating diabetes is £10 billion a year - nearly ten per cent of the health service’s entire budget. Without action this could rise to £17 billion by 2035.

John Tomlinson, Deputy Director of Public Health at Nottinghamshire County Council, said that being overweight or obese is the main risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

“Many people do not realise that more than 20,000 people in the UK die from the diabetes every year and type 2 diabetes is a leading cause of preventable sight loss in people of working age as well as a major contributor to kidney failure, heart attack and strokes.”

Coun Joyce Bosnjak, chairman of the Public Health Committee at Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “Maintaining a healthy weight by eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly are ways to prevent and manage diabetes. Exercising regularly and reducing body weight by about five per cent could reduce the risk of getting diabetes by more than 50%.”

Diabetes UK Midlands regional head Peter Shorrick welcomed the initiative and said: “We’re all eating too much sugar, and this can lead to obesity, which is a major risk factor in developing type 2 diabetes.

“Making sensible food choices at a young age and including regular exercise in daily life will offer these young cadets a good foundation to build on and help them on their way to a healthy and active adult life.” 


The Alliance

The Alliance of health and social care organisations was created in April 2015 to bring together health commissioners, Newark and Sherwood and Mansfield and Ashfield CCGs as well as the area’s main hospital trust provider, Sherwood Forest Hospitals, East Midlands Ambulance Service, the voluntary sector and Nottinghamshire County Council. The aim of the Alliance is to agree a joint strategy to oversee the health and social care priorities and uses new ways of funding providers that are focussed on achieving better health and social care outcomes for the population.


Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme

The Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme aims to help prevent the growth of diabetes.

Patients who have had a blood test indicating they have a high risk of developing diabetes and who are interested in participating in the Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme should contact their GP practice and ask to be referred. 

Nationally, the landmark prevention programme will, over the next five years, help up to 190,000 people across England who are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Population figures on diabetes have been taken from the latest Quality Outcomes Framework (QOF) as at March 2016, which uses data on patient registers within general practices. QOF is the annual reward and incentive programme for GP practices achievement results.