Diabetes in India
In today’s world where diets are high in refined sugars and lifestyles are low in exercise, more and more individuals than ever are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. This problem is especially bad in people of South Asian origin who are six times more likely to contract diabetes than Caucasians.
Type 2 diabetes differs from type 1 in that type 1 sets in at a very young age and is considered to be caused mostly by genetics whereas type 2 diabetes is viewed as a “lifestyle disease,” although genetic disposition may play a role. High amounts of sugar consumption combined with a lack of exercise can result in damaging the pancreas’ ability to produce and regulate insulin.
While diabetes is generally considered to be a manageable illness in countries like the United States, it is a different story for those diagnosed with diabetes in India and other, poorer countries. A higher number of Indians have diabetes than residents of the U.S. do, and many of them must endure without treatment. Indian hospitals are host to many patients suffering from diabetes’ worst consequences, including blindness, kidney failure, coma and death.
India is a developing nation, meaning it is in a transitional economic phase, like Britain was during the Industrial Revolution. This means more and more people are working sedentary jobs and eating out more often. Working a nine-to-five office job leaves little time for exercise, and restaurant food is generally considered to be worse than food prepared at home due to the large portion sizes and high amounts of calories and saturated fats. This changing lifestyle combined with Indians’ predisposition to diabetes is resulting in a skyrocketing number of cases, with an estimated 65 million people in India currently living with diabetes. This number is expected to increase to 109 million over the next 20 years.
While it is unclear why South Asians have this genetic predisposition to diabetes, there are many theories to attempt to explain it. One such theory is a study from Glasgow University that claims South Asians’ muscles do not burn fat as efficiently as European’s muscles do. The study found that the genes responsible for fat metabolism were significantly lower in South Asians, and this may be the reason why people of South Asian descent more easily gain weight and develop diabetes. Additionally, because diabetes is genetic, there is concern that the number of people developing type 2 diabetes now will lead to a higher number of babies born with diabetes in the future.
Diabetes is a condition that stays with people all their lives. There is no cure or easy solution. Treatment is costly, and for Indians living on less than $2 a day, their income is not enough to afford the everyday management that the condition requires. Even many people who have bypassed the poverty line do not have the means to treat their illness. In fact, many people do not even know they have diabetes until symptoms become severe. In a country like India where only 10 percent of the population has health insurance, the best course of action is to educate people on diabetes prevention.
Diabetes can be avoided by eating healthy foods like fruit and vegetables, and exercising regularly. However, even in countries like the U.S. where people know how they should be living, people find it difficult to change their lifestyle. People of South Asian descent will have to work even harder than other races to prevent diabetes due to their genetics, and whether or not they will is worrisome. An aggressive anti-diabetes campaign, better nutrition for children and an improved health care system will all be needed to combat the diabetes epidemic in India. Other countries that are struggling with this disease include China, Indonesia and Pakistan.
— Taylor Lovett
Sources: Diabetes.co.uk, BBC, New York Times
Photo: Health Me Up