Savefor later Page saved! You can go back to this later in your Diabetes and Me Close

Waseem's story: "Taking up walking has helped me with weight loss and my mental wellbeing."


Waseem Zaffar

Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes aged 24

"The reality of not seeing my son grow up was the wake-up call I needed."

Waseem Zaffar, who has type 2 diabetes, is taking part in our Birmingham wellness walk. He was born and grew up in the Lozells neighbourhood, which he represents as one of the city’s councillors. He has an MBE for his community work and is on Diabetes UK’s Tackling Inequality Commission panel


"My story is an all too-common one"

As a 41-year-old, overweight, busy politician from a South Asian background, telling you that I have type 2 diabetes will come as little surprise. I was diagnosed aged 24 which scares me when I think about it. 

I remember I had quite a stressful job. I was running a not-for-profit organisation and also going through some personal challenges. I was always on the go and eating fatty foods and junk food. I was driving a lot and not walking. 

I was going to the toilet a lot and my mum suggested I went to the GP for a blood test for diabetes. I was told I had type 2 diabetes. I was obese – around 120kg.

Over the following 10 years, I made some huge mistakes, the biggest of which was not accepting that I was diabetic and ultimately ignoring every bit of clinician and non-clinician advice I received. I went all that time without taking the tablets I was prescribed. 

One of the things I remember was that a lot of relatives said: ‘you can’t have diabetes, you’re too young’, and I convinced myself the blood tests were wrong.

I had so much going on in my life that I didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand. I’d tell young people diagnosed today to read up on type 2 diabetes and find out all there is to know.

As a councillor, I come across so many young people who are at risk of type 2 diabetes or have type 2 diabetes. I represent one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Birmingham where there are massive levels of health inequality. And diabetes is one of the most common illnesses people face. We have to factor in the social determinants of things like what you eat, where you eat, what your job is and the environment around you.

Services to help prevent type 2 diabetes should be available close to the communities that most need them.


Reality check

In the Spring of 2016, my health started to deteriorate very badly. I suffered my third bout of Bell’s Palsy. I had just become a father and my life priorities were changing so I decided  – for a change – to listen to my GP and get some blood tests. My visit to the discuss the results could not have been a bigger wake-up call.

I was informed that my HbA1c was at a dangerously high level but the next bit of news knocked me out: my blood results showed my kidneys were shutting down and I was to be referred to the chronic kidney disease team. I fainted.  

The thought of dialysis, having spent hours sat with friends who have suffered renal failure, and the reality of not seeing my son grow up was the wake-up call I needed.

My dad, who was a type 2 diabetic, died at 54 in 2009. His health was pretty good apart from type 2 diabetes and he seemed to have it under control but he died from heart failure. And that started to play on my mind. It saddens me every day that he died so young, but my health at that point was in a far worse state than his was when he died.



The last six years have been very different. I am taking my medication. I take metformin and more recently I have a weekly injection of Trulicity (dulaglutide). All my diabetes numbers are going in the right direction and my kidneys are no longer at threat level.

I’ve been living a more active lifestyle than at any time in my adult life. I fall asleep disappointed if I don’t get my 10,000 steps in. 

I’ve been walking consistently now for the past 18 months. It's helped me with weight loss and my mental wellbeing. And even if I’m really busy, I find ways to get some steps in, such as walking phone conversations.

I’m a Brummie through and through. I love walking the canals and exploring the city. Most people don’t realise we have more miles of canal than there are in Venice!  

For the last few years I’ve reduced my intake of carbs. It’s really difficult if you’re from a South Asian background as the diet is very heavy on carbs. My GP is very supportive, and I have friends who are good motivators – including some who have diabetes. One of those is Tom Watson, who had a very public campaign to reverse his diabetes. 

Last week, I weighed myself. I’m still overweight but I cannot recall previously being 79kg (12 stone 6) as an adult. At one point, I started to wonder if my dream to be Aston Villa’s number 9 could be back on!

Back to Top
Brand Icons/Telephonecheck - FontAwesomeicons/tickicons/uk