Changes to both policy and lifestyle are needed to fight diabetes

With deaths and the costs relentlessly rising, societies have to stop sugar-coating the threat and take lifesaving action

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 April, 2016, 12:20am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 April, 2016, 12:20am

Health experts have long expressed concern about rates of diabetes, especially type 2, the form linked to poor lifestyle. The World Health Organisation’s first major report on the disease is particular cause to heed the warnings, though. It shows almost one in 11 of the world’s adults – 422 million – were sufferers in 2014, a four-fold increase on the figure for 1980. With deaths and the costs relentlessly rising, societies have to stop sugar-coating the threat and take lifesaving action.

Low and middle-income countries are particularly at risk and China is especially vulnerable. Rapid economic growth has brought urbanisation and changed lifestyles, factors that are often accompanied by diseases like diabetes. It is a reason why 30 per cent of the world’s sufferers are now Chinese, with 9.4 per cent of adults afflicted, up from less than 1 per cent 24 years earlier. Health costs and levels of lost job productivity have risen, along with the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and blindness.

Diabetes cases soar fourfold in a generation, to 422 million worldwide

But there are no mysteries about diabetes. Type 1 is an inherited trait and nothing can be done to lower the risk of getting it. The second variety is quite another matter, and while age, race and heredity can be factors, people with a predisposition can lower the risk by eating properly, keeping weight in check, getting regular exercise and not smoking. That is not so easy with long working hours and limited public space for recreation. Fast food and soft drinks are a particular problem and are helping contribute to high rates of obesity and heightened risk of diabetes, especially for children.

Understandably then, even though Hong Kong has a developed society, diabetes is also on the rise. Health agencies have a role to play in educating as do government planners in ensuring adequate recreation areas and companies in giving workers healthy employment terms. The policies of countries like Mexico that are taxing sugary drinks could be looked into. None of us should take what we eat, drink and do for granted.