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Wed 1 Aug 2007 12:00 AM

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Dealing with diabetes

Prevention may be better than cure when it comes to dealing with diabetes, says David Ingham.

This month's cover story ‘Preventing Diabetes' may seem to be stating the obvious: Prevention is better than cure when it comes to dealing with diabetes. Unfortunately, it's a statement of the obvious that we continue to ignore.

As our feature points out, you significantly reduce your risk of contracting diabetes by doing a few simple things: eating more healthily, doing some exercise and staying off cigarettes.

As these messages continue to be ignored, the statistics continue to get worse. The World Health Organisation reckons that 50% of the Middle East's population is overweight and most GCC countries report that around 20% of citizens suffer from diabetes.

Compared to where we were 18 months ago, awareness of the problem has risen significantly. Local newspapers now regularly carry stories about the region's diabetes epidemic. A number of events are also being held, which will help focus attention on the problem, including the International Diabetes Federation's 21st World Diabetes Congress, due to take place in Abu Dhabi in 2011. Emaar Healthcare Group and Dohms, in partnership with Harvard and Joslin Diabetes Centre, plan to set up a centre of excellence focused on diabetes treatment and research.

These initiatives are helping to raise awareness of diabetes, but we still come back to the same problem: Individual behaviour. Growing preference for processed and fast foods, sedentary lifestyles and high rates of smoking are the reasons for the diabetes epidemic. Only if people kick their bad habits and do more exercise, will the tide be turned.

This is why a public health campaign, emphasising the need to watch one's diet and take more exercise, is long overdue. There have been high profile campaigns against smoking and dangerous driving in all GCC countries. Let's now have a big initiative, using TV and print, and going into schools, that outlines the steps needed to lead a healthier lifestyle. Schools are an area that need to be looked at particularly closely: Are canteens giving students healthy dining options and is there enough physical education on the curriculum?

As part of any public health campaign, educational leaflets could be given out to GPs, which they could distribute to their patients. It might also be time to look at the food industry and press manufacturers to include recommended daily intakes on product labellling.

With more knowledge, individuals would be in a better position to make the right lifestyle choices. Then, maybe, the diabetes tide could begin to be turned.

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