Chip’n cola diets causing diabetes in kids

Bangkok, November 13:

Ahead of World Diabetes Day, marked on November 14, 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 Lancet.’

“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 states. “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 principle writer is Prof Kun-Ho Yoon, a South Korean diabetes specialist at the Kan-gnam 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 impact of diabetes among the young. “The proportion of children aged seven 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 countries.’

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 change their new lifestyles and food habits to stall the spread of the disease.

Diabetes type-2 is caused largely by the 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.”

The 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 said. “Now people want fried chicken and food with a lot of fat.”

Elsewhere in Asia, governments are being encouraged to consider a spike in taxes to save their adults and children from becoming obese and succumbing to diabetes. “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. “The funds generated could be used to promote healthy diets and more physical activity.”