It is a life-altering condition which has been diagnosed in more than one million people in the UAE so, today, on World Diabetes Day, we take a look at what is being done to combat the disease. By Britt Ashley
Diabetes is known to affect almost one in five of the adult population here in the UAE, and lies undetected in another 500,000 of us. So serious is its prevalence that the president of the International Diabetes Federation, Nam Han Cho, declared earlier this year that the country was facing a ‘tsunami’ if it did not get to grips with the problem.
So, this month people all across the nation will be putting their best put forward in the fight back against the condition.
Walk the Talk
Two awareness-raising walks are happening in the next couple of weeks. The first walk takes place on Friday, November 17 at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, and has been organised by the Imperial College London Diabetes Center. This 5km stroll will include en-route activities such as a climbing wall, bouncy castles and bubble football.
The second, Beat Diabetes Walk, in Dubai Creek Park, runs a week later on Friday, November 24. It has been coordinated by the Emirates Diabetes Society and the Beat Diabetes Foundation with side activities including zumba and yoga.
And while both events – each expected to attract about 20,000 people – promise to provide fun in the sun, there is a serious side: to improve public knowledge of diabetes, make people aware of symptoms, and encourage those who suspect they may be suffering to get tested.
‘Diabetes is one of the most pressing issues in the world today,’ says Dr Abdul Razzaq Ali Al Madani, President of the Emirates Diabetes Society. ‘Its prevalence in the Middle East is higher than many other countries. So, this walk centres on supporting care and creating awareness. It will be a good event and we really encourage participants to register themselves.’
So, what exactly is this condition and just why has it become so prevalent, both in the UAE and the Middle East?
At its simplest, diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin. Without this hormone, our muscles and tissues cannot transform digested food into usable energy. The result is that – unless the condition is treated with daily injections of insulin – a substance called glucose builds in the blood. This is known as ‘high blood sugar’ and is astonishingly dangerous: a diabetic attack can end in comas, heart attacks, permanent kidney damage or even death.
Doctors often talk of either type I or type II diabetes. The differences between the two are subtle but, in broad strokes, type I is genetic, while type II tends to develop as we get older and is often caused or exacerbated by external factors such as lack of exercise, poor diet, stress and smoking – factors that are prevalent among many of us here.
‘It is type II which is widespread in the Middle East,’ confirms Dr Al Madani, who is also chair of the Gulf Group for Study of Diabetes. ‘This can be caused by some genetic predisposition and, while we cannot control this factor, if we can control other causes such as obesity and sedentary lifestyles, we can help delay its onset.
‘The other important thing is to encourage people to go in for early screening so we can teach those who are diagnosed about how to manage their condition with the right medication, lifestyle changes and good nutrition.’
One person who knows the importance of such early screening is Dubai-based, Lebanese pop star DD Foxx. She opened last year’s walk in Abu Dhabi and will be involved again this year.
‘I lost my grandfather a couple of years ago,’ she explains. ‘He was diabetic but he never exercised and that led to many complications, including higher blood pressure. So, raising awareness about this is something I really support. Last year, thousands of people participated and I’m looking forward to being part of the event again.’
Yet, it is not just those who are diagnosed who should be changing their behaviour, experts say. In fact, studies show that basic lifestyle changes would prevent an astonishing 80 per cent of type II diabetes cases globally.
‘Studies show that basic lifestyle changes would prevent 80 per cent of Type II diabetes cases globally’
‘If you’re overweight, every kilogram you lose could reduce your risk by up to 15 per cent,’ says Dr Mark Hyman in his best seller The Blood Sugar Solution.
Eating regular meals, cutting out processed foods, and having five portions of fruit and vegetables a day are all a good start. Thirty minutes’ exercise every day is also recommended.
In short, it seems, whether you’ve been diagnosed or you just don’t want to be in the future, keeping active and eating well are absolutely essential to keeping an appropriate blood sugar level.
So there really is no excuse not to pull on your walking boots this month. Get those legs moving for diabetes!
- Walk On, organised by Imperial College London Diabetes Center, takes place at Yas Marina Circuit, in Abu Dhabi, on November 17, starting 2pm. Cost Dh10; free for under 16s. Distance: 5km.
- Beat Diabetes Walk, organised by Emirates Diabetes Society and the Beat Diabetes foundation, takes place at Dubai Creek Park on November 24 at 8am. Cost Dh20; Dh10 for children aged 8-14-years-old; free for under 8s. Distance: 3km.