Women are key agents in tack­ling di­a­betes

The Star Malaysia - - Views - PRO­FES­SOR DR CHIN KIN FAH Tay­lor’s Univer­sity

NOV 14 is World Di­a­betes Day, a day in which global com­mu­ni­ties come to­gether to raise aware­ness on this in­sid­i­ous lifestyle dis­ease. The preva­lence of di­a­betes has been on the rise over the past decade, mak­ing it one of Malaysia’s most crit­i­cal pub­lic health is­sues af­ter obe­sity and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases.

Cur­rently, it is es­ti­mated that the num­ber of diabetics in Malaysia has sky­rock­eted to 3.5 mil­lion. It was re­ported that, ac­cord­ing to the Malaysian National Health and Mor­bid­ity Sur­vey in 2015, one-fifth of Malaysian adults would have di­a­betes by 2020.

This year, the theme for World Di­a­betes Day is “Women and Di­a­betes – Our Right To A Healthy Fu­ture”. Look­ing at it, many peo­ple might won­der if women are more sus­cep­ti­ble to di­a­betes even though the dis­ease it­self may not gen­der dis­crim­i­nate. Glob­ally, there are cur­rently over 199 mil­lion women liv­ing with di­a­betes, and this dis­ease is re­ported to be the ninth lead­ing cause of death in women around the world, caus­ing 2.1 mil­lion deaths each year.

A look at the risk fac­tors for di­a­betes re­veal why women are more vul­ner­a­ble to it. Be­ing over­weight and obe­sity are in­sep­a­ra­ble from di­a­betes, and in­deed re­search has proven that obe­sity can in­crease the risks of de­vel­op­ing Type 2 di­a­betes.

Even though women and men share sim­i­lar di­a­betes com­pli­ca­tions, what many women may not know is that di­a­betes could have more se­vere im­pacts on them. First, women with di­a­betes suf­fer greater car­dio­vas­cu­lar risks than men as pointed out by the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion. Di­a­betic women have a twofold in­crease in risk of coro­nary heart dis­ease com­pared to their male coun­ter­parts, and nearly four times the risk for death from coro- nary heart dis­ease.

There is ev­i­dence show­ing that kid­ney dis­ease is an­other com­pli­ca­tion of di­a­betes that af­fects women more than men. This is be­cause di­a­betic women nor­mally suf­fer from a lower level of oe­stro­gen which is associated with kid­ney dis­ease.

Ad­di­tion­ally, de­pres­sion is re­ported to be twice as com­mon in women with di­a­betes than it is in men with the con­di­tion. Re­search also shows that di­a­betic women are more prone to poor blood sugar con­trol, obe­sity, hy­per­ten­sion and high choles­terol level than men with di­a­betes.

This year’s World Di­a­betes Day gives us a good op­por­tu­nity, both as in­di­vid­u­als and as a com­mu­nity, to re­flect on the vi­tal re­la­tion­ship be­tween women and di­a­betes. It is the right time for us to ex­plore how women can be “change agents” in tack­ling di­a­betes.

Isabelle Al­lende, the fa­mous Chilean nov­el­ist, once said: “If a woman is em­pow­ered, her chil­dren and her fam­ily will be bet­ter off. If fam­i­lies pros­per, the vil­lage pros­pers, and even­tu­ally so does the whole coun­try.” Women are “gate­keep­ers” of fam­ily health and well­ness. It is im­por­tant that they take the lead role in ad­vo­cat­ing a health­ier diet and lifestyle, and sched­ul­ing reg­u­lar ex­er­cise and health checks to pre­vent di­a­betes.

Ed­u­ca­tion is an equally im­por­tant task. The National Health and Mor­bid­ity Sur­vey re­ported an up­ward trend in un­di­ag­nosed di­a­betes among adults above 18 years old from 4.5% in 2006 to 9.2% in 2015.

Women as daugh­ters, wives and moth­ers must em­power fu­ture gen­er­a­tions with the right knowl­edge to strengthen their ca­pac­ity in pre­vent­ing and car­ing for di­a­betes.

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