Info Service on Health Issues (November 06/11)
Western fast foods and lifestyle contribute to diabetes in Asian kids
among Asian children has reached epidemic levels. This grim warning
in the medical journal The Lancet comes at a time when urban
communities are increasingly becoming more Westernised in their lifestyle
and food habits. The article below highlights the problem. It is reproduced
with the permission of South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 6140,
14 November 2006.
Health: Chip'n Cola diets
causing diabetes in Asian kids?
By Marwaan Macan-Markar, IPS, Bangkok, 13 November 2006
Ahead of World Diabetes Day,
marked on 14 November, a leading British medical journal has issued
a grim warning to Asian countries. Type-2 diabetes among the region's
children has reached ''epidemic levels,'' says a paper published in
''The onset of type-2 diabetes in younger age-groups is likely to result
in major economic burdens for countries in Asia due to premature ill
health and death,'' it says. ''People in Asia tend to develop diabetes
with a lesser degree of obesity at younger age, suffer longer with complications
of diabetes, and die sooner than people in other regions.''
Type-2 diabetes is as troubling among the continent's adults, notes
the paper, whose principal writer is Prof. Kun-Ho Yoon, a South Korean
diabetes specialist at the Kangnam St. Mary's Hospital in Seoul. ''The
proportion of people with type-2 diabetes and obesity have increased
throughout Asia, and the rates of increase show no signs of slowing.''
Consequently, it warns that Asia, which in 2003 had 194 million people
with diabetes, could see the number rise to 333 million by 2025.
Currently, there are over 240 million people worldwide living with diabetes,
states the World Diabetes Day website.
The rate of diabetes among adults in countries such as the Asian giants
China and India and others like South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand
are contributing to this increase, states the study. ''India and China
have the greatest numbers of people with diabetes, and are likely to
remain in this position in 2025, by which time they could each have
20 million affected individuals.''
In fact, China helps to illustrate the impact of diabetes among the
young. ''The proportion of children aged 7 to 18 years who were obese
and overweight increased 28-fold between 1985 and 2000,'' states the
report. ''The age at which type-2 diabetes develops has also decreased,
and the prevalence of the disease in children and adolescents has risen.
Cases of type-2 diabetes now greatly outnumber cases of type-1 diabetes
in children and adolescents.''
The picture is different in developed countries with people of European
descent, where ''diabetes affects mainly those who are older than 65
years.'' So a health problem that affects only ''a minority of youth
worldwide is threatening the majority in Asia.''
And if that is not worrying enough, the World Diabetes Day website adds
that in many parts of the world, ''insulin, the main life-saving medication
that children with diabetes need to survive, is not available.'' As
a result, ''many children die of diabetes, particularly in low and middle-income
In 2005, an estimated 1.1 million people of all ages died from diabetes,
states the World Health Organisation (WHO), adding that the annual diabetes
death toll could be as high as 2.9 million if one accounts for death
''in which diabetes was a contributory condition.''
The warning in the 'The Lancet' comes at a time when public health experts
in the region are fighting an uphill battle to get the increasingly
urbanised communities in Asia to change their new lifestyles and food
habits to stall the spread of the disease.
Diabetes type-2 is caused largely by excess body weight and physical
inactivity, according to the WHO. The high consumption of fast foods
and snacks and drinks high in sugar are equally to blame.
Type-2 diabetes results from ''the body's ineffective use of insulin,''
the Geneva-based health body adds. Type-1 diabetes, on the other hand,
''is characterised by a lack of insulin production.''
In Thailand - which ranks as having some of the highest rates of adult
obesity in Asia due to a combination of a sedentary lifestyle and high
consumption of foods packed with sugar and little nutrients - public
health officials are experimenting with a range of initiatives to get
the message across.
''We have been warning people that this new disease cannot be solved
at a hospital,'' says Dr. Chaisri Supornsilaphachai, director of the
non-communicable disease bureau at the public health ministry. ''They
are being told about the price they will have to pay for becoming more
Westernised in their habits.''
Changing food habits often figure in this drive in a bustling metropolis
like Bangkok, which has an abundance of the world's established fast-food
outlets, in addition to a surfeit of convenience stores offering a range
of snacks high in sugars.
''In the past, the Thai diet had more vegetables, fish and fruit,''
Chaisri told IPS. ''Now, people want fried chicken and food with a lot
Elsewhere in Asia, governments are being encouraged to consider a spike
in taxes to save their adults and children from becoming obese and succumbing
''There is a need to tax sugary drinks as a way of reducing consumption,''
Dr. Tommaso Cavalli-Sforza, regional adviser in nutrition and food safety
at the WHO's Western Pacific regional office, said in a telephone interview
''The funds generated could be used to promote healthy diets and more
Public health experts in the region have also stepped up efforts to
rope schools into diabetes-related initiatives, pressing the need for
a change in the curriculum to emphasise the need for healthy diets and
''Schools are a good point of intervention to stall the spread of obesity
and diabetes,'' says Cavalli-Sforza. ''Schools in Singapore have already
begun such initiatives.''
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