And now health experts are warning that the disease is increasingly emerging among the islands' young people.
Early intervention is the aim of a new program run by the Diabetes Wellness Centre in Majuro.
It targets middle and high school students and teaches them diet, fitness and lifestyle skills to help ward off the disease.
Presenter: Joanna McCarthy
Speaker: Robert Revercomb, project director for the Emergency Comprehensive Health Initiative at the Diabetes Wellness Centre in Majuro
REVERCOMB: Well the statistics for young people are still coming in, but the fact that we're seeing it at all is certainly of concern. What we do know is that right now the statistic seems to be about 80% of Marshallese are diabetic, Type 2, are suffering from Type 2 or the onset thereof and that if left onto its own with no intervention, it could, everyone can reasonably expect to become diabetic, develop Type 2 Diabetes. I know that's an astounding statement perhaps, but we're seeing it's true. About 90 percent of all hospital admissions are the result of Type 2 Diabetes or diabetes-related ailments.
McCARTHY: So what programs are you rolling out with young people to try and address this epidemic?
REVERCOMB: Well right now, we have gotten permission, we've gotten a grant through the World Diabetes Foundation and a joint venture with the sponsor for the Wellness Centre here, Canvasback Missions, and they have partnered with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education to go out into the community and in particular the public schools and intervene, and what they're doing is, we are intervening with an educational classroom, educational component that teaches the students what causes non-communicable diseases in addition to Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, obesity and that little cluster of what some would call metabolic syndrome that results from the same risk factors and we're going and teaching the kids what causes diabetes, how to prevent it and if necessary, of course, how to remedy it, how to reverse the process. So that's the education component. In addition, we have a physical education component that combines with the change in diet and again with the diet, one of the things we're focusing on is going back to traditional local foods, but in addition, teaching agriculture, gardening as a valuable skill. So with the diet component, we have a refocus on traditional, local foods and of agriculture and gardening in particular as a valuable skill.
With the physical activity, we are in the schools teaching the value of physical education, of recreation and in view of modern living, doing exercise as a form of artificial work that's necessary to keep our bodies healthy. So again we are in the middle schools and the elementary schools and to some level the secondary and even at the tertiary level teaching people how to eat a healthy meal, how to plan healthy meals, how to grow the things they need and how to exercise to keep blood glucose levels manageable and at healthy levels.
McCARTHY: And with this high school education program are you hoping that these kids will actually take the lifestyle skills and take these lessons and pass them onto their parents?
REVERCOMB: Well, we also have a parent component to the program that brings the parents in. We go out to the PTA meetings, we have distributed literature, we have explained what we're doing with their children, we have healthy cooking cookbooks in both Marshallese and in English and we also have healthy cooking classes and the parents are, we've just finished up an intervention we call them, a lifestyle intervention that did a screening for the parents of blood pressure, body mass index, BMI, and a blood glucose reading and prescribed exercises, gave them exercise classes, but also handed out the healthy cooking cookbooks and they participated in healthy cooking classes using those recipes. So the parents are involved too and you're right, we do hope that this will permeate throughout the communities and it actually is.