21 October 2013

Malaysians are at great risk of a disease that is preventable by lifestyle change

WHEN the existence of a dangerous stretch or bend in a road is known, good and careful drivers will slow down and take every precaution  to not  add themselves to the accident statistics. Drivers who pay no regard and speed anyway are either suicidal or blithely think bad things won’t happen to them. History proves such cavalier attitudes to be fatal.

In Malaysia, one in five adults has diabetes. The number with this non-communicable disease has nearly doubled from 1.5 million in 2006 to 2.6 million last year. When the third National Health and Morbidity Survey 2006 came out, it was projected that the number of adults with diabetes would rise to 2.48 million in 2030. Obviously, we have not only surpassed that projected number, but have also achieved it 18 years in advance. But it gets worse: the Health Ministry believes an equal number of adults are at risk of becoming diabetic, and they are not even aware of it.

Meanwhile, Malaysia has the highest obesity rate in Southeast Asia; 15 per cent of us are obese, and almost half of all adults are overweight or obese. In addition, Malaysia is the eighth largest consumer of sugar in the world. Only 7.5 per cent of us follow the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of consuming five servings of fruit and vegetables daily. And only 64.8 per cent of us exercise. All this directly and indirectly puts us at risk of diabetes, which is the leading cause of blindness, amputation and kidney failure, and is predicted to become the seventh leading cause of death in the world by 2030. At the speed with which Malaysians are developing diabetes, if this disease were a dangerous stretch in the road, then more and more of us are recklessly hurtling towards it.

But just like having an accident at that dangerous stretch is avoidable, so, too, is diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, which afflicts 90 per cent of all sufferers, is preventable. A healthy diet and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every day can reduce the risk of developing it. But even if one has diabetes, it’s not the end of the world. Just like heart and asthma patients, people who have diabetes can continue to have a fulfilling life, for as long as they get diagnosed, acknowledge what they’ve got, make changes to their lifestyle, and commit to managing their changed health condition.

Check the road, look for the warning signs, respect the danger and take precautions early.

This article was first published in www.nst.com.my on 01 May 2012.