On World Diabetes Day 2019, more information on the illness that affects millions worldwide


While Type 1, or juvenile diabetes, is diagnosed in childhood, Type 2 can be prevented with healthy eating and exercise

Doris Wai |

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The theme for this year's World Diabetes Day is Family and Diabetes

So, are you skipping your PE class a little too often? Maybe you had a few sugary drinks today (and every day), and pizza for dinner? If so, you may be setting yourself up for a problem with diabetes Type 2 later in life. 

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when a body is unable to regulate blood sugar, and Type 2 diabetes is known as a lifestyle disease – one you could avoid by eating healthily and getting regular exercise. 

However Type 1 diabetes – commonly called juvenile diabetes – is diagnosed in childhood. 

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Today is World Diabetes Day, so to learn more about this disease, Young Post spoke to Dr Joyce Yau See-yun, a specialist in diabetes at the Hong Kong Pacific Diabetes & Endocrine Centre, to find out more about this life-threatening condition. 

“Our pancreas is a large gland near the stomach. It produces a hormone called insulin that helps to convert glucose from the food we eat into energy. Diabetes occurs when our body does not produce enough insulin, or becomes resistant to it,” says Dr Yau. 

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that is usually diagnosed during childhood. It occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin and can only be managed with lifelong insulin injections before every meal. 

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“Type 1 diabetes affects those between four to 18-years-old. More than half of all young diabetes patients belong to this type,” Yau says.

“Teens are also more likely to undergo additional stress during puberty. If they do not control their glucose levels well, they can be hit by delayed puberty, with girls getting their first period later than their peers, while boys tend to look thinner – killing their confidence and self-esteem.” 

According to Yau, the condition can also be mentally and emotionally demanding on young people, as they are likely to experience anxiety due to the stigma of having this disease. 

A healthy diet and exercise can help prevent Type 2 diabetes.
Photo: Shutterstock

“Some teens are self-conscious about having an injection or using an insulin pump in front of their peers before meals as they are worried about being discriminated against. They may either skip the injections, or eventually spiral into depression and avoid social situations altogether,” Yau adds.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition where glucose levels get too high. The condition occurs over time, and is often linked to obesity. Yau adds this form of diabetes is on the rise in Hong Kong’s younger population, due to a combination of poor eating habits, a sedentary lifestyle, and genetics. 

Diabetes is on the rise, particularly in those nations which have an increasingly wealthy middle class, like India. In 2015, India had 69.2 million people living with this disease; by 2030, according to a global study, this is expected to affect around 98 million of its citizens. 

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According to 2015 statistics provided by the Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection, diabetes is the city’s tenth most common cause of death. Today, one in five people living with diabetes in Hong Kong is under the age of 40, and that number is expected to double by 2030. 

Left untreated or unmanaged, both forms of the disease can lead to heart attacks, stroke, blindness, and even death. The condition also requires expensive lifelong medical care and vigilance.

Yau explains that teenagers need a lot more insulin during puberty as growth hormones that are released during puberty can interfere with teenage bodies, and there is a risk of developing insulin resistance, which can make glucose control even more difficult. 

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All is not lost, though. Yau stresses that improvements in diabetes care over the past two decades means that people living with diabetes can continue to live full and active lives with the support of their families, which coincidentally, is the theme for this year’s World Diabetes Day: Family and Diabetes. 

This extends to friends of those suffering from diabetes too. 

One of the best things you can do to help family or friends with diabetes is to get to know their symptoms, just in case they have a diabetic crisis due to low blood sugar levels. Things to look out for may include some of these signs: extreme tiredness, loss of concentration, severe thirst, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and loss of coordination, erratic behaviour, a persistent headache and even pale or sweaty skin. 

A sweetened drink, chocolate or a glucose sweet will give them immediate help, then make sure they eat a larger meal. “By becoming more aware of the symptoms and the impact diabetes has on patients’ lives, you can be a source of support and encouragement to help them confidently manage diabetes for life,” Yau says.