November 14 is World Diabetes Day and this year, the focus is on ‘healthy eating as a key factor in the fight against diabetes and a cornerstone of global health and sustainable development’. Healthy eating helps to prevent type 2 diabetes mellitus, the more common form of diabetes. In those who already have diabetes, healthy eating is important for keeping blood sugar under control and prevention of complications.
Diabetes is a serious disease condition where the body cannot produce insulin or cannot use the insulin which is produced. Insulin is a hormone which regulates blood sugar. So, when this ‘regulator’ doesn’t work as it should, the excess sugar accumulated in the body over time leads to serious damage of the body, especially the blood vessels and nerves. One of the main factors which lead to this condition is unhealthy diet, besides lack of physical activity, tobacco use, etc. By ‘unhealthy diet’ here we mainly think of the calorie-rich, fatty, fast foods which are cheaply available and are consumed by both the rich and the poor, more in the urban areas but rapidly increasing in rural areas too.
The global prevalence of diabetes is said to be 9% among adults 18 years and above. The number is set to rise. India already has the highest number of diabetics in the world and has earned the dubious title of being the diabetes capital of the world. India Diabetes Study is an ongoing ICMR project which aims to study the burden of diabetes in India. In the second phase which covers the North East, the prevalence of diabetes in Assam, Arunachal and Mizoram range from 5.2% to 5.7%. Nagaland is next in line for survey. Earlier data shows that the prevalence maybe high in Nagaland. In 2012-13, 11.6% of adults (18 years and above) were found to have high blood sugar, suspected for diabetes (random test which was not confirmatory diagnosis). Screening of healthy office goers in Kohima in September 2015 showed that 29% of the 348 people screened were found to be suspected for diabetes. It was also found that 24% were overweight and 22% were obese among these office goers. Hospital records and routine department reports show that diabetes is on the rapid rise.
A healthy diet containing leafy vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains, lean meat, unsweetened yogurt and nuts can help reduce a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes and reduce complications in people with diabetes. We should encourage children to develop healthy eating habits and provide healthy food choices which are home-prepared. The opening of fast food chains and the easy availability of restaurant and processed food stuffs, being pushed by advertisements makes it extremely difficult in deciding to follow a healthy dietary lifestyle. Price rise of healthy food items like fresh fruits and organic vegetables, and the flooding of our markets with cheap processed foods also determine the type of diet that people consume. Therefore the world diabetes day campaign goes beyond the individual choice and appeals to stakeholders so that there is improved access to healthy food by the population.
A healthy diet is found to be costlier than an unhealthy one by about 1.5 USD. In a year, that translates to about 550 USD per person. Therefore, to adopt healthy eating habits, the affordability of the healthy food stuffs and the purchasing power of the people have to be improved. Encouraging local food production and businesses, regulation of food prices, food quality and advertisement, generating employment, and increasing income in general will all go a long way in facilitating healthy eating habits.