21 November 2017

Zimbabwe: Diabetes - Resisting Junk Food Could Be the Answer

The message simply shows that diet and diabetes cannot be separated. With the rise of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer, calls to eat health foods have been growing. "Policies that increase availability of nutritious and healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables should be promoted," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director at an event to mark this year's World Diabetes Day recently.

"Fiscal measures should be taken to increase the price of foods high in fat, sugar and salt in order to reduce their consumption. People need to lead healthy lifestyles from an early age. Physical activity should be promoted in every setting including at home, school, city walkways, streets, roads and at the work place." This year's commemorations which were held under the theme: "Women and Diabetes -- Our Right to a Healthy Future," targeted women as diabetes' prevalence was higher in females than it was in males.

Statics on diabetes in Africa are worrying and the WHO and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimate that the diabetes population will double over the next 25 years in Africa. Health experts say the epidemic of diabetes is increasing rapidly on the continent, under the combined effects of rapid urbanisation, changing eating habits, increase in life expectancy and environmental changes.

They further say that diabetes has become one of the largest chronic epidemics of the 21st century ahead of HIV and AIDS with Africa leading the pack of new infections as people's lifestyles continue to change. They warn on the need for people to watch on their exercise patterns and eating habits.

"We are alarmed by both the magnitude of the problem, the speed at which diabetes has evolved, and how poorly health systems are responding," said one health expert in a report on diabetes in Africa. And because diabetes is a risk factor for other catastrophic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure, its increasing prevalence could propel a huge wave of chronic disease in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa."

According to recent statistics from the IDF, the number of people to be diagnosed with diabetes across the globe will double by 2040 with Africa set to lead the new infections. Dr Moeti said obesity was on the rise in Africa and largely to blame for increasing diabetes cases. In Africa, the number of children who are overweight or obese has nearly doubled since 1990, increasing from 5,4 million to 10,3 million.

According to the WHO, overweight and obese children are likely to become overweight and obese adults. In the African region, in 2014, it was estimated that 22,9 percent of men and 38,6 percent of women above the age of 18 were obese. Dr Moeti attributed the growing numbers of overweight to poor diets and being physically inactive. She urged African governments to put in place strict measures to protect people from consuming unhealthy foods.

More than 175 000 Zimbabweans die from diabetes mellitus complications every year and over half of these are women. Diabetes is the ninth leading cause of death in women globally, causing 2,1 million deaths each year. And health experts say as a result of socio-economic conditions girls and women with diabetes have poor access to cost effective early detection, diagnosis, treatment and care.

Zimbabwe Diabetes Association (ZDA)'s Dr John Mangwiro urged women to consume healthy foods and take contraceptives wisely as a way of preventing diabetes effects. "Nearly half of the women living with diabetes are not aware of it and it is mostly triggered by foods they consume and contraceptives they take," he said.

"Women are more than men and one in every 10 women has got diabetes. I urge women and girls to seek treatment early and take appropriate contraceptives. If they get pregnant whilst the HBA is high, there are high chances for them to give birth to disabled children."

ZDA was offering free testing and treatment to diabetic people in various parts of the country..

According to ZDA, 10 percent of non- communicable diseases were diabetic cases.

Despite the gravity of the situation, health experts say less than 2 percent of all global health funding is dedicated to this major public health challenge.

They say there is an urgent need to raise awareness of an epidemic that has been overlooked for too long, and more importantly to support and give hope to people with diabetes, mostly disadvantaged, who lack access to care and appropriate treatment.

The 2017 report of the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology Commission on diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa indicates that, currently, only half of those with diabetes are diagnosed, and of those, only 1 in 10 are receiving treatment.

"After decades of focusing on infectious diseases, health systems are largely unprepared for dealing with the growing diabetes burden," the researchers noted.

If nothing is done to address the problem, the researchers further said, the overall cost of diabetes in the region could nearly triple to more than $59 billion by 2030 -- 1,8 percent of the region's gross domestic product.

Costs would result from loss of labour productivity -- from premature death, people leaving the workforce early, sick leave, and diminished productivity at work due to poor health.

A concerted effort from communities, national governments, and international agencies is necessary to bring diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa under control, the authors wrote.

The Lancet report called for more research to better understand the nature and magnitude of diabetes prevalence in each country in the region; financial resources from nations and international partners; training for community-based health workers in diabetes prevention and control; and the use of new technologies to aid in screening, diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment.

Encouraging people to eat healthy foods could be one answer in the fight against diabetes.

"The mentality that people have about junk food being associated with financial status has to be removed," said Simba Chirevo, a youth who attended the commemorations in Harare recently.

"A lot of us are still of the view that being able to buy such foods shows our financial muscle. This is not the case. These foods are unhealthy and are associated with life threatening diseases. Knowing and choosing what's good for consumption and health is the best thing one can do."

Health experts warn that diabetes can result in more complex health situations such as strokes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol which significantly increases the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.

All that is needed to avoid these health burdens is to practise discipline when it comes to diet and physical exercise, health experts say.

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