Many UAE People Believe Diabetes Is The Norm

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Here, a leading clinician at King’s College Hospital London, UAE calls for new approach to fight the region’s diabetes health epidemic.

A leading diabetes expert has called for a change in how people in the Middle East live and for people to take control of their health.

Dr Khan, Consultant Endocrinologist and Diabetologist at King’s College London, UAE says: ‘the epidemic of “Diabesity”’ has taken on the world’.

Dr Emran Khan says a new approach is needed to tackle the type-2 diabetes epidemic: ‘Because people are not as well informed as they should be, sadly I feel that it is accepted in UAE society and culture as a norm to eventually develop diabetes. It is accepted that this disease is inevitable, and it does not surprise them at all when it happens because it is so prevalent. Obesity and a high BMI [Body Mass Index measure of body fat] has been accepted as not something unusual and is not considered a serious issue.’

Dr Khan wants to see people moving more, eating well and if they are overweight or obese, losing weight to avoid getting type-2 diabetes.

What is type-2 diabetes?

Type-2 diabetes isa serious condition in which the insulin made in the pancreas is unable to work properly, or the pancreas cannot make sufficient insulin.

Symptoms include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Intense thirst
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Tiredness

Left untreated, it can lead to life-changing complications, including:

  • Heart attacks and strokes
  • Kidney disease
  • Vision problems (even blindness)
  • Pain or loss of feeling in hands and feet
  • Amputations of fingers, toes, or limbs.

What is the scale of the problem?

The UAE ranks third in diabetes prevalence in the Middle East and North Africa. According to the International Diabetic Federation, 38.7 million adults are diabetic. By the year 2040, the figure could rise to 82 million.

UAE nations are among the 15 countries in the world with the highest rate of diabetes per capita. Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE also rank in the top 15 for obesity. Qatar ranks highest, at number six.

Being overweight or obese can contribute up to 85% of the risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

Causes of the epidemic?

Dr Khan says a key factor in the increase in diabetes is the region’s increase in wealth and an accompanying decrease in physical activity. Said Dr Khan: “this has led to sedentary lifestyles and fast food options replacing more traditional modes of work, travel and cuisine.”

England is no exception.NHS England, the government-funded organisation that delivers healthcare in England via the National Health Service (NHS), believes that ‘tackling diabetes is one of the biggest healthcare challenges of our time’.

What’s the cost?
NHS England says that, at £8.8 billion a year, type-2 diabetes treatment accounts for nearly nine per cent of the annual NHS budget. There are five million people in England at high risk of developing the condition. If these trends persist, one in three people will be obese by 2034 and one in 10 will develop type-2 diabetes. The condition is a leading cause of preventable sight loss in people of working age and is a major contributor to kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke.

Partners in expertise

Dr Khan says it is ‘extremely encouraging’ to see world-class British-based institutions such as King’s College London coming to the region: ‘Institutions of great excellence are bringing their expertise, knowledge, skills and governance. They are not only helping patients; they are also  contributing towards raising health standards. It allows people like myself to be able to flourish and contribute under the umbrella of such state-of-the-art units.’

Its diabetes clinic is staffed by UK-trained clinicians and nurses and offers screening,  diagnosis and treatment.

The Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICLDC) is an out-patient facility that specialises in diabetes treatment, research, training and public health awareness.  More than 800,000 patients have visited the centre since its launch in 2006.

Dr Khan’s five ideas to address type-2 diabetes

  • Provide walking tracks in shopping malls similar to cycling lanes in the West. Users would receive reward points or discounts on their grocery purchases.
  • Change Food labelling so that the public understand more about what they are eating.
  • Harness the power of the entertainment industry–a commercial before each television programme and cinema movie.Print media need to provide easy-to-understand health information. And we need to spread the message via social media.
  • We need educational programmes, particularly in shopping malls, pharmacies and supermarkets. We need our food industries to help to promote healthier food options in supermarkets and restaurants.
  • Local pharmacists could provide support and free blood tests and weight checks, and perhaps provide a scorecard and education about BMI and the risks associated with ‘diabesity’.

*Written by Dr Emran Khan, Consultant Endocrinologist & Diabetologist, King’s College Hospital London, UAE

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