3.4 million or 14.9% Malaysians are diabetics

14 November is World Diabetes Day. Since it was launched by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1991 it has become the primary awareness campaign of the global diabetes community. Every year on this date the Ministry of Health launches a campaign to create awareness on the effect of diabetes. In spite of this, the prevalence of diabetes mellitus in Malaysia, especially that of Type 2, has increased to epidemic proportions.

According to the Second National Health and Morbidity survey it is estimated that 3.4 million Malaysians are diabetes sufferers in 2010.

Results of the two latest National Health and Morbidity Surveys showed a dramatic increase in the prevalence of diabetes from 8.3% in 1996 to 14.9% in 2006 for Malaysian adults aged 30 years and above – an increase of 80% over a period of just 10 years. More worryingly, about a third (or 36%) of the diabetic population are undiagnosed.

The same surveys showed that the prevalence of obesity had increased from 4.4% in 1996 to 14.0% in 2006 for adult Malaysians aged 18 years and above — an increase of over 200% in just 10 years.

Malaysia has the most number of overweight and obese people in Asia, obesity is a main cause of diabetes 54% of the adult population is either obese or overweight, compared to only 24.1% 10 years ago. As a result 7 out of 10 Malaysian adults suffer from chronic diseases.

High sugar intake (which also causes obesity) among Malaysians is one of the contributing factors to the high incidence of diabetes. We consume 26 teaspoons of sugar a day and are the eighth highest sugar users in the world.

diabetes-complicationsThe disease is dangerous because it can also affect the patient’s vital organs like the heart, kidneys, nerves and eyes. If diabetes is not well controlled, it can lead to many complications. High blood glucose levels over a period of time, coupled with the features of metabolic syndrome, cause damage to the blood vessels, which in turn, result in damage to many organs

Although many serious complications, such as kidney failure or blindness, can affect individuals with diabetes, it is the complications of the foot that take the greatest toll. Of all lower extremity amputations, 40-70% is related to diabetes. In most studies, the incidence of lower leg amputation is estimated to be 5-25/100,000 inhabitants/year: among people with diabetes, the figure is 6-8/1,000.

Somewhere in the world every:

  •  10 seconds two people develop diabetes
  •  10 seconds 1 person dies of diabetes
  •  30 seconds a limb is lost to diabetes.

Diabetes and end stage renal failure is a big health problem in Malaysia. It is estimated that there are 13,000 kidney patients undergoing dialysis and every year 2,500 people join the ranks of end-stage renal failure patients.

Another major health concern is that 4 out of 5 people with diabetes will die of heart disease (the number 1 killer in the country). Six new cases of stroke occur every hour in Malaysia.

Surveys have shown that for every two known diabetics, there is at least one more who never know of having the disease (and by extension, may never seek treatment) until irreversible complications set in. Worse still, Type 2 diabetes is seen as no longer 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 an uncommon sight nowadays.

Doctors found that the young diabetics were usually obese, and their condition could be traced to eating too much unhealthy food and having a sedentary lifestyle. According to the survey, Type 2 diabetes was more apparent in people aged between 18 and 29, however there were also children below 10 years inflicted by the disease.

A senior consultant pediatrician said that “The children’s bad dietary habits of eating burgers, nuggets, fried chicken, fries and carbonated drinks which are contributing factors, to obesity. Long hours of homework, watching television and playing computer games added to the problem.”

There is growing evidence that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), a cheap substitute for sugar used in processed foods and drinks may facilitate insulin resistance, and eventually lead to Type 2 diabetes. HFCS is widely used in a wide range of foods such as jams breads spreads, chocolate, baking and cooking ingredients, packed fruit juices soft drinks, beverages, energy drinks, bread, breakfast cereals, sauces, snacks and soups.

Beverages and processed foods made with HFCS are high in calories and low in nutritional value. Regular intake of these products in the diet has the potential to promote obesity — which, in turn, leads to serious health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.

Diabetes is an important public health concern. Globally there is a rising trend in the prevalence of diabetes due to many factors such as population growth, aging, urbanization and increasing prevalence of obesity and physical inactivity.

Diabetes prevalence rate in Malaysia has risen much faster than expected, almost doubling in magnitude over the last decade. Diabetes has not only taken a toll on the resources, as it is a costly disease for the nation but also on the limbs and eyesight of its sufferers

As such urgent action needs to be taken curb the problem which is now as now at an epidemic stage. In view of this the Consumers Association of Penang calls on the government to:

  •  Ban the use of HFCS in food products.
  •  Work with manufacturers to avoid sugar in their products.
  •  Require manufacturers to amend their labels to clearly indicate the amount of sugar in their food.
  •  Stop the advertisements of highly-sugared and other junk food and drinks during children’s television viewing hours.
  •  Ban the sale of junk food in school canteens and food hawking within a fixed perimeter around schools so that schoolchildren are not tempted to purchase unhealthy food.
  •  Initiate the removal of vending machines dispensing junk food and sugary drinks from areas such as hospitals, airports and schools. Instead provide drinking water in water dispensers at these places.
  •  Launch a massive campaign in the mass media to educate the public on the dangers of diabetes.
  •  Launch a massive campaign to encourage consumers to engage in physical activities to avoid being obese.