The Straits Times says

No sugar-coating the threat of diabetes

The public-health burden of diabetes, a worldwide phenomenon, might worsen here as well in the light of worrisome health patterns. The causes of the chronic disease are complex but complicit are rapid weight gain, including obesity, and physical inactivity, as noted by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Unfortunately, obesity trends here are heightening that risk for Singaporeans. Among schoolchildren, obesity has risen from 10 per cent in 2000 to 12 per cent in 2014, and more adults aged 24 to 35 are becoming obese as their lifestyles change when they enter the workforce. Alarmingly, a projection by the dean of the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health suggests that a third of this cohort might become diabetic by the time they are 65.

Across the population, Singapore has the second-highest prevalence of diabetes in the developed world at 10.5 per cent, as ranked by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) last year. Topping this league is the United States (at 10.75 per cent) where it is the seventh leading cause of death, according to the American Diabetes Association.

A passion for food and sedentary lifestyles often work against those who want to avoid the scourge. The discipline to drastically change habits might be daunting but much worse is the lifetime effort of coping with the incurable disease. Diabetes results when the body does not produce enough insulin - a hormone that regulates blood sugar - or does not respond properly to insulin. That can harm the nerves and blood vessels.

The impact is also considerable on a national scale. Most countries coping with the epidemic devote between 5 per cent and 20 per cent of their total health spending on diabetes treatment. The bill is growing as more are being treated, insulin is expensive, and long-term support is needed to prevent complications from diabetes, like kidney failure, blindness or heart problems.

Against such risks, one might wonder why there isn't greater awareness of the prevention and management of the disease. It is not an inevitable fate but an outcome that lies in the hands of people at risk of becoming sufferers. In many cases, the onset of diabetes and its complications "can be prevented by a healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco", says WHO. Promoting better understanding of this mantra and embedding healthy lifestyles are important efforts that can't be left to a health agency alone. Others should also play a part to help tackle childhood obesity and encourage early screening for all. Globally, over half a million children were found to have Type 1 diabetes last year. Among adults, one in two with the disease is undiagnosed, says the IDF. These are reasons enough for Singaporeans to not take their daily choices and health status for granted.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'No sugar-coating the threat of diabetes'. Print Edition | Subscribe