Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Conquer obesity in the battle against diabetes

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In Malaysia in spite of many campaigns against diabetes its prevalence especially that of Type 2 has increased to epidemic proportions. At the current population of 28 million and at the prevalence rate of 15 percent it is estimated that there are 4.2 million diabetics in Malaysia.

The prevalence of diabetes in Malaysia had jumped from 1-2% in 1960. 6.3% in 1985, 8.3% in 1996 and 14.9% in 2006.

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Diabetes has become a condition of epidemic proportion worldwide and it is a cause for concern, prompting World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) to declare November 14   as World Diabetes Day.

As obesity is a major contributing factor to diabetes, the need to battle obesity is instrumental to reduce the alarming increase of diabetes among Malaysians. According to WHO Malaysians ranked sixth among Asian countries with high adult obesity rate.

According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2006, 60% of Malaysians aged 18 and above are overweight. This is attributed to Malaysian eating too much, eating the wrong food and exercising too little.

Obesity is one of the major factors causing diabetes. Excessive body weight as compared to the height of an individual, serves as a predisposing factor for diabetes mellitus.  Due to extra amount of fat in the body, the insulin does not function properly in the body. Normally, the main function of insulin is to allow the sugar present in the blood to enter the muscle and tissue cells. But due to increased fat in the body, the muscle and tissue cells become resistant to insulin, leading to high blood sugar level in blood (hyperglycemia) and finally diabetes.

Another contributing factor of obesity is the easily availability of food as there are food-stalls operating around the clock in the country. This indirectly “helps" Malaysians cultivate the unhealthy habit of taking supper. Eating at night has been linked to weight gain.

The mushrooming of fast food outlets in the country also contributes to obesity. Fast foods which are high in fats and salt together with high-sugar soft drinks appeal to children. Continuous consumption of such foods increases their chances of getting diabetes.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association a study of more than 90,000 women suggests that the increased consumption of sodas and sugary drinks may significantly increase the chance of getting adult onset diabetes.

Other studies have shown that the consumption of refined and processed food also contribute to diabetes. These include food products that contain refined flour, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, trans-fats, saturated fat, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and other harmful chemicals which are being used as food additives. These foods, when consumed in excess will turn the body acidic, causing inflammation, and damage to human cells. At the same time chemical imbalances are created that trigger unhealthy food cravings. Over a period of years, this leads to systemic ailments/diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

 The high consumption of fat and meat by Malaysians increases their body weights, resulting in developing diseases such as diabetes, heart attack, kidney disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Malaysia’s per capita consumption of meat at 48 kilograms in 2005 was higher than the 35 kilograms in Japan and Korea and only 24 kilograms in Thailand.

In a study of more than 400,000 participants by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers found a strong association between the consumption of red meat, (particularly processed meat) and an increased risk of diabetes. The study also shows that replacing red meat with healthier proteins, such as low-fat dairy, nuts or whole grains, can significantly lower the risk.

In another study conducted in Australiait was found that eating white bread is associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes.  After following the diets and health records of more than 36,000 men and women in Australia for four years, researchers say they found white bread and starchy foods linked to diabetes.

 Surveys have shown that for every two known diabetics, there is at least one more that is undiagnosed and untreated until irreversible complications set in. Worse still, Type 2 diabetes is no longer seen as a disease of middle or old age — children as young as 10 years old suffering from diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2) are not uncommon nowadays.

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The diabetes prevalence rate in Malaysia has risen much faster than expected, almost doubling in magnitude over the last decade. Diabetes does not only take  a toll on the country’s resources, but also on the  limbs (amputation), eyesight (blindness), kidney (failure), heart (failure) and nerve (damage) of its sufferers.

The alarming increase in Malaysia’s prevalence of diabetes needs strong measures by the Government to stem this epidemic.

The Consumers Association of Penang urges the Ministry of Health to:

-- Curb the sale of unhealthy foods.

-- Unhealthy foods that is high in fats, sugar, salt and additives should be discouraged by the introduction of taxes on such foods.

-- Educate  Malaysians  on the dangers of  obesity and diabetes.

-- Encourage exercises and provide the necessary amenities in all residential areas.