Children not spared by diabetes


Sugar free Jude

By Dr Rasha Kelej

Published by Merck Foundation (2022)

MANY people are living and struggling with diabetes in Africa.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common and more prevalent due to obesity, inactivity and high alcohol consumption.

Untreated diabetes has resulted in humans suffering from lifelong complications that include kidney and heart disease, blindness and, in some cases, amputation of lower limbs.

To show how diabetes is affecting many people, WHO, on its website, revealed that about 422 million people worldwide have diabetes; the majority living in low and middle-income countries while 1,5 million deaths are directly attributed to diabetes each year.

Worrying is that the statistics are not sparing children.

Some children are at risk of Type 2 diabetes due to their genetics while, for others, it is due to being inactive and eating too much unhealthy foods.

In its endeavor to raise awareness about diabetes prevention, Merck Foundation, through Dr Rasha Kelej’s conceptualisation, has published a book which is under review this week.

Titled Sugar Free Jude, the book is designed and written for children. 

As part of children’s literature, the book’s main purpose is to educate children about diabetes and to persuade them to eat healthy, exercise and be sugar-free.

It is also important to note that cases of diabetes are on the increase now more than ever due to rapid urbanisation in most African countries, therefore, diets are changing, with parents and guardians feeding their children more animal-source foods, refined grains, sugar, fats and oils.

The storyline in the book Sugar free Jude is, therefore, centred on revealing the dangers of children’s adoption of behaviour that favours unhealthy diet and lifestyles.

The protagonist, Jude, is portrayed as a school-going boy who has a habit of eating unhealthy food.

This means he is permitted and gets access to such foods from home.

Jude enjoys eating sugary food, such as sweet doughnuts, sugarcane and juice.

The portrayal of Jude in the story shows that he is a character that represents children or a child within the community; a child ‘spoilt’ by unhealthy foods with disregard to the consequences.

As the protagonist, Jude has a friend who warns and reminds him that eating unhealthy food is not good for him: “You have been eating an excess of sweet and unhealthy stuff. Too much sugar is not healthy. Just be careful.”

One can take Jude’s friend to represent the literature, songs and doctors in our lives who remind us of the dangers associated with having an unhealthy lifestyle. 

Jude does not take heed of his friend’s warnings until he is diagnosed with diabetes.

In Sugar Free Jude, the writer tells the story of Jude while educating readers about Type 2 diabetes.

Jude’s visit to the doctor not only reveals the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes but gives more information about the condition.

The writer has this to say: “In Type 2 diabetes; there is insulin resistance or a relative deficiency of insulin that results in excessive blood sugar which in turn can lead to many other issues.

In short, Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition in which insulin is either ineffective or relatively insufficient to deal with the blood glucose levels.

It typically appears in middle aged or adults; however it can increasingly be seen in adolescents as well.

The exact cause of diabetes is not known. But genetics, family history and unhealthy lifestyle seem to be important causative factors.”

The writer also uses Jude’s visit to the doctor to highlight the risks associated with not managing the condition well.

Sugar Free Jude reveals health dangers associated with diabetes and if not managed, one is likely to have eye damage, heart disease or stroke, high blood pressure, kidney disease and mental health issues.

In the book, one is also provided with solutions that can help in managing Type 2 diabetes and this can come in the form of lifestyle medications and regular blood sugar tests.

A dialogue between Jude and the doctor reveals tips one can follow: “Managing diabetes requires certain lifestyle changes. 

Those sumptuous meals are quite over. 

You need to eat healthy from now.

Well life can still be sweet without sugar. Try to go sugar free in your meals.

Eat more fruits and veggies… along with lots of exercise.”

Though written and illustrated for children, the book can also be of help to parents and caregivers.

One can consider it as a book written to show children the real dangers of the sweet stuff they want.

The writer does well in highlighting that fighting diabetes needs a collective effort; in this case, both parents/guardians and children should be wary of lifestyle and food preference of the whole family.

“Our lives can be sweet without sugar too,” writes the author. 

“Let’s all work together to fight diabetes every day.” 

The number of children receiving treatment for Type 2 diabetes is on the increase across the globe, therefore, Sugar Free Jude is an appropriate book for them.

Just as the writer is advocating change in eating habits and lifestyle, so should be the goal of every child to fight the risks of diabetes. 

After all, prevention is better than cure.


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