India: The New World Diabetes Capital


Today marks the World Diabetes Day, and India has a reason to worry. At 65 million, India is the second hot-spot for diabetes cultivation. And the numbers are all set to explode in the next few years. According to International Diabetes Federation, the diabetic rate is growing exponentially in India. It has been classified as an “alarming” rate. The number of people suffering from diabetes back in 2010 was 50.8 million. Now the figure stands at 65.1 million. International Diabetes Federation (IDF) has declared that obesity has reached epidemic proportions among Indian middle-class children and adolescents. Doctors in India are fitting gastric bands on children as young as 13, as per IDF.

The only nation which outruns India’s vast diabetic pool is China, where the rate is even more alarming. Before 1980 about one percent of the Chinese population was infected with the disease. Since then the figure has continuously risen growing to 5.5 percent, 9.1 percent and 11.6 percent in 2001, 2007 and 2013 respectively. China has about 120 million patients of diabetes at present.

With such worrying figures, it is time for some self-introspection. Why is it that diabetes has suddenly got the hots for us Indians? Is it because of our alleged unhealthy diet? Or is it because of the declining physical activities in our daily routine? Well, it is a trade-off between the two. But first, there is a need to understand what diabetes is all about.

Diabetes Mellitus is a group of metabolic diseases in which there are high blood sugar levels. Chiefly, there are three varieties of diabetes:

Insulin dependent diabetes mellitus: The pancreas is incapable of producing sufficient levels of insulin, which plays a crucial role in osmoregulation.

Non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus: The body cells do not respond properly to the insulin produced.

Gestational diabetes: It occurs in pregnant women with no diabetic history.

If untreated, diabetes can cause further complications like heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, foot ulcers and eye damage. Some of the typical symptoms of diabetes are weight loss, frequent urination, increased thirst, increased hunger, vomiting, fatigue, headaches, blurry vision, dehydration and deep gasping breathing.

Diabetes, unlike other major diseases is a disease of “affluence”. A comfortable job, which does not call for any physical activity as such, is one of the primary causes of diabetes. This is why majority of the IT sector employees fall prey to it. Children today are so obsessed with smartphones and the internet that they choose to stay indoors instead of going out and playing. Being devoid of physical activities, children today suffer from obesity which increases the chances of diabetes. A healthy work out is one of the best ways to curb the rise of diabetes. Another factor, which is equally responsible in contributing towards the growth of diabetic patients, is the kind of diet one practices. A diet high on carbohydrates, starch and fat are detrimental to the production of insulin and the healthy functioning of the heart. A diet high on vitamins and proteins can check the growth of diabetes. Indian food has often been held as a suspected cause of growth of diabetes. But is it really so? Indian diet was practiced exclusively by our ancestors; still, diabetes was not rampant anywhere then. Traditional Indian diet incorporating a wide variety of freshly cooked vegetables and pulses is considered very healthy. But the uninhibited use of oil and spices is what renders Indian diet unhealthy. The advent of western, pre-processed, packaged foods and junk food has only catapulted the rise of the disease.

Diabetes is one of the rare cases where the solution is fairly simple. Probably that is why we never seem to take it seriously. And also there is the Indian mentality at play which considers looking “plump” to be equivalent of being “healthy”. Parents would much rather see their kinds swell up than being thin and lean. A change of attitude and lifestyle is all that is required to fight diabetes. A healthy diet comprises:

Fresh fruits and vegetables. They are high on anti-oxidants that help maintain a steady flow of insulin and thus osmoregulation.

Fiber rich carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are a chief cause of diabetes, but are at the same time, a rich source of energy. Rice and wholegrain breads are rich in fiber and carbohydrates.

Low fat dairy products. Skimmed milk and yoghurt are low on fats.

Healthy oils. Olive, canola, peanut and rice bran oils should be used more.

Apart from a healthy diet, regular exercise is a must. Children should be encouraged to go outdoors and play their hearts out. Every year November 14 is marked as the World Diabetes Day, to create awareness about the disease. But instead of slowing down, the rate of diabetic patients is only rising. And developing economies like India are the front runners. The solution is remarkably easy. All we need to do is to take a stand. Not for others, but ourselves. That is all there is.

Rizwanur Rahman

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