World Diabetes Day: Are Pakistanis losing battle of the bulge?

Number of diabetics in Pakistan reaching dangerous proportions


South Asian men and women are at a high risk of developing diabetes if their waistline exceeds 36 inches and 34 inches, respectively, according to Dr Javed Akram, vice chancellor at Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Medical University PIMS. Keeping your waistline in check can reduce your risk of developing diabetes by 50 per cent. Obesity is one of the major causes behind diabetes which can lead to fatal complications like renal failure, blindness and coronary artery disease among many others.

Pakistan is ranked 9th out of 188 countries in terms of obesity, according to the Global Burden of Diseases Study published in The Lancet medical journal. And health experts are worried, as bad food habits become trendier in Pakistan. Fast food being just a call away may have made fast-paced urban life easier, but has also made becoming a diabetic easier. Today, nearly two-thirds of people with diabetes live in cities, and urban dwellers are significantly more likely to develop diabetes than those who live in rural areas.

Today, 52 per cent of humanity lives in cities, a highest ever ratio. By 2050, that figure would have risen to 70 per cent. A rise in earning and spending, sedentary lifestyles and disparity in access to healthcare makes diabetes an almost urban scourge.

Talking to The Express Tribune in connection with World Diabetes Day which is being observed annually on November 14 across the globe, Dr Akram said the trend of developing diabetes among obese people is increasing.

The International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) estimates that in Pakistan there are 7.1 million people who are diabetic, and 88,000 people die annually due to diabetes-related complications. Of these, 35,615 are men and 52,397 women. By 2035, more than 12.8 million people will have diabetes in Pakistan.

Though the factor of genes is responsible up to 50 per cent in the development of type-2 diabetes which obviously is not preventable, the remaining 50 per cent of risk factors are avoidable through making better food choices and regular exercise a part of life, suggested Dr Akram.

“In Pakistan, many people are unaware that they are diabetic. The first reason is a lack of awareness, and secondly they never get themselves tested for the disease,” said Dr Masood Akhtar, president of the General Cadre Doctors Association (GCDA), Lahore.

“Everyone, after crossing the age of 30, should get tested for diabetes; if they find their blood sugar level between 80 mg/dl to 120 mg/dl, then it’s normal. But a level above 120 indicates they are diabetic,” he said.

According to Dr Akhtar, people who take heavy doses of medicines or are taking steroids repeatedly are also at a higher risk of developing diabetes. He advised that people should replace junk food with fresh fruits and vegetables, should avoid food having refined sugar, and add fibre to their regular diet. Exercise helps ward off diabetes as muscles release extra carbohydrates during workouts. And doctors say a big no to fizzy drinks.

The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination has recently established a non-communicable diseases cell to develop national guidelines and improve coordination of provincial governments to fight diseases such as diabetes, heart ailments and hypertension.

Minister for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar on this occasion has called for concerted efforts by all segments of society to raise awareness to fight this disease which has reached epidemic proportions in the country. The minister added that it is clear that urban lifestyles are driving a sharp rise in non-communicable diseases.

Obesity among children, often a result of parental negligence, is contributing to making more children prone to type-two diabetes. According to the Diabetic Association of Pakistan, 17% of Pakistan’s diabetics are children. A senior pediatrician at the Children Hospital at PIMS said that it is upsetting to see that mothers prefer to give juices or cold drinks to their children in feeders, rather than breast feeding them.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 14th, 2014.



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