Little steps go a long way to beating diabetes

The statistics are shocking. According to the International Diabetes Federation, more than one million people in the UAE are diabetics and over 387,000 cases are undiagnosed. This means that if you are in a room with five people, one of them has been diagnosed with diabetes and at least one more has the condition but has not been diagnosed. Little wonder then that diabetes looms as the most serious health menace in the UAE.

Unmanaged diabetes affects blood vessels and can be fatal or lead to potentially debilitating, long-term complications. It can be the precursor to heart attack, stroke, impaired vision, renal failure, genital dysfunction and more. In effect, the condition impacts the physical, mental and emotional well-being of not only a person but also their family.

Any individual can develop diabetes, but some are more at risk than others. Apart from obesity or being overweight and a family history of the condition, factors such as pre-diabetes and high levels of blood pressure and cholesterol also increase the risk.

Women with gestational diabetes and those who gave birth to babies weighing 4kg or more are at an increased risk of developing the condition later on in life.

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes are mild and may not be apparent for years. So annual check-ups are important for everyone over thirty; younger if they fall into the high-risk categories. Diabetes is not reversible but with controlled diet, regular physical exercises and proper medication, it can be managed effectively, allowing a person to lead a relatively normal life.

Lifestyle choices

Although factors such as ethnicity, family history and age play a role in developing type 2 diabetes, the biggest contributor is most often an individual’s lifestyle choices. Today’s way of life has a lot of say in the increased incidence. A sedentary lifestyle combined with excessive food consumption leads to obesity and eventually to diabetes.

Eating out is a big trend in the UAE – the country is strewn with restaurants and we have a population that can afford to dine out. This, particularly the buffet system with its message of eat all you can, leads to uncontrolled food consumption. There are also the add-ons that come with fast food: cola free with burger, French fries on the side for two extra dirhams – the list goes on. This inevitably leads to overeating, which is the precursor to diabetes.

Home delivery of restaurant food also plays a major role in exacerbating obesity, especially among youngsters. Today, they don’t even need to step out to get unhealthy food – it is delivered right to their homes. Imagine a child who plays computer games all day, with fries, burgers and cola within arm’s reach. Excessive unhealthy food and almost zero physical activity: the perfect recipe for disaster!

Start young

Typically, raising awareness about diabetes must start with the children and involve the society as a whole, with parents, schools, authorities and the media working in tandem. Children must be taught healthy lifestyle choices, both from school and home.

Increased physical activity significantly reduces the risk of developing diabetes. Schools must not underestimate the role of sports and outdoor games by cutting down on leisure time activities. Instead, more youngsters must be encouraged to take up sports and athletics. Sporting competitions must be held regularly within and among schools, right up to the national level. There should be awards, accolades and good media coverage, which will attract increased participation leading to healthier generations of children.

In a bid to raise awareness about diabetes, November 14 is being celebrated as World Diabetes Day, with a focus on educating the public about making sound lifestyle choices as a way to avoid and manage diabetes.

The good thing about type 2 diabetes is that it is preventable, provided proper measures are taken. So be aware, and take active measures.

Eat a balanced diet and avoid overeating. Eat home-cooked food and encourage your children to do so.

Get as much exercise as you can. It is said that walking 10,000 steps – 5 kilometres – a day effectively prevents diabetes. So you don’t need to spend money at the gym; just walk regularly – every step counts. Park your car a 100 or 200 metres away from your workplace or shopping mall or use stairs instead of a lift to climb one or two floors.

These little measures can go a long way towards building a healthier nation.

– Dr Al Madani is President of the Emirates Diabetes Society

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