‘Diabesity’ a waiting epidemic for Malaysians

The diabetes situation in Malaysia is a cause of concern as about 3.5 million or 17.5 per cent of Malaysians aged 18 and above had the disease. — Reuters pic
The diabetes situation in Malaysia is a cause of concern as about 3.5 million or 17.5 per cent of Malaysians aged 18 and above had the disease. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, 31 Oct — “Diabesity”, a term combining obesity and type 2 diabetes, is likely to be the biggest epidemic in human history says a renowned diabetes expert, Professor Paul Zimmet.

For Zimmet, the disease is a global public health issue and Asian countries especially could no longer ignore the inexorable rise of Type 2 diabetes.

“The global projections for the diabetes epidemic from 2015 to 2040 is estimated to increase by 55 per cent, with 415 million cases in 2015 to 642 million in 2040,” revealed Zimmet while addressing to more than 300 audience at Sunway University here, recently.

In his talk entitled “Diabetes-The Greatest Epidemic in Human History?  Implication for Asia”, the Professorial Fellow at the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute pointed that diabetes is now the leading single cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, stroke, as well as lose of toes, feet or legs.

Coca-colasation: The study of the island of Nauru

Zimmet believed the epidemic might well have begun with the Westernisation or also known as the “coca-colasation” of many countries.

The disease has long been labelled by the media as the Western’s killer due to the result of a significant study on diabetes in the Island of Nauru in 1975.

Located at the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Nauru is the home to the indigenous people of Micronesian and Polynesian origin.

Before the colonisation by Westerners in the late 18 century, they were photographed with normal body weight and slender physical appearance.

However after the invasion of Western culture, partly due to the country’s wealth from the phosphate mining industry, the islanders started adopting the Western diet namely in processed food and carbonated drinks.

This resulted in higher obesity rates among its citizens.

“We undertook a survey of diabetes and found out that 34 per cent of the population over the age of 18 have diabetes, the highest rate ever discussed in the world,” shared Zimmet, who is also the Professor of Diabetes at Monash University, Australia.

The same trend to the rise in diabetes has been discovered not only in other indigenous tribes of New Zealand and in the United States, but among the Asians as well.

Implication for Malaysia

Zimmet stressed that diabetes could threaten a country’s economy if effective measures were not taken quickly.

“Priority is towards prevention, which can help reduce the future socio-economic costs and the burden of complications,” he said.

Zimmet’s warning is not something new.

Malaysian medical fraternity has long been vocal about the needs to address the healthcare expenditure issue.

The diabetes situation in Malaysia is a cause of concern as about 3.5 million or 17.5 per cent of Malaysians aged 18 and above had the disease.

Moreover, the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015 revealed that more than half or 9.2 per cent were unaware that they were diabetic.

According to Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahya the government has to spend about RM2,700 annually to treat each diabetic patient, while a patient with kidney failure has to spend between RM1,400 and RM3,200 monthly to undergo haemodialysis.

“This is a big amount and the government is not only burdened by the high cost in healthcare but also by the patients’ loss of work productivity,” he said to reporters during a press conference after the National-Level World Health Day celebration at Kuala Lumpur in early October.

Combating diabetes from the womb

During the talk, Zimmet also presented interesting studies that related a mother’s health during pregnancy and the risk of her child getting Type 2 diabetes.

“During World War II, an acute famine had occurred in the West Netherlands where rations allocated only provided 400 to 800 calories per day.

“Pregnant women who starved during their second and third trimester delivered small babies.

“A survey conducted revealed that as the babies grew into adults, they had a higher prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, obesity, as well as hypertension,” said Zimmet.

The same pattern was observed during the Chinese famine (1958-1962), where exposure to the famine during infancy was associated with an increase of diabetes in adulthood.

The problem was prevalent among those with a Western dietary pattern or who were overweight in adulthood.

A new hope

In a related development, a collaborated study between research centres in Singapore, Auckland, New Zealand and Southampton in the United Kingdom has been carried out to provide valuable information of the long-term effects of a woman’s diet on her child.

According to the study, there is increasing evidence that the mother’s nutritional state as she enters pregnancy is important for the baby’s development and life-long health.

If the mother has high blood sugar levels during pregnancy, for example, it can predispose the baby to having increased body fat and diabetes in later life.

The outcome of the study, which enrolled over 400 women in Singapore and more than 1,000 internationally, could just be the key to curb the rising trend of diabetes in Malaysia.  — Bernama

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