World Diabetes Day a timely reminder of a global killer

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 3:16am

Amid a national party congress that will install China's new leaders and the aftermath of a US presidential election, a day on the UN calendar that comes round every year seems unremarkable. World Diabetes Day is an exception. The disease is not infectious, yet it assumes epidemic proportions in ageing societies like Hong Kong's and takes root insidiously amid rising prosperity, such as on the mainland.

The day is held on November 14 to mark the birthday of one of the discoverers of insulin, Frederick Banting. The disease has already been highlighted globally once this year by the theme of World Health Day in April - ageing and health. Diabetes was bracketed with other non-communicable illnesses such as heart and respiratory disease, stroke and cancer among major health challenges for older people. Indeed, it can be linked to heart disease, and all are often associated with lifestyle issues.

The risk of death from such diseases is four times greater in low-to-middle income countries, which puts Hong Kong in the higher-risk group, despite its wealth. The risk can be reduced by a lifestyle that includes exercise, healthy eating and moderate consumption of alcohol, and excludes smoking. This all resonates in Hong Kong, where the needs of an ageing population will weigh on public spending on health and welfare.

World Diabetes Day inevitably raises the issue of obesity, which can predispose people towards these serious diseases. Amid concern at the extent of childhood obesity, we are constantly reminded by the authorities, doctors, social workers and teachers of the importance of eating wisely and exercising more. However, Hongkongers work long hours and lead busy lives. Fast food is a quick and convenient solution to meals, meaning that parents can be poor role models. A strategy to contain the spread of diabetes must include widespread public health education in which doctors play a vital role, a proactive attitude from parents and teachers, and greater community awareness.