Diabetes is a chronic health condition that occurs either due to lack of insulin production by the pancreas (type 1 diabetes) or due to the inability of the body to utilise the insulin produced (type 2). Diabetes is one of the six health conditions that drive the increasing burden of diseases globally.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in the year 2014, there were 422 million cases of diabetes across the globe, which increased to 463 million in 2019. According to the International Diabetes Foundation (IDF), in the year 2019, India was the second most affected country with 77 million cases in the age group of 20 to 79 years.
Is youth the new target of diabetes in India?
A recent article published in the journal Diabetologia on 23rd November 2020 investigated this matter further and found startling insights and trends. The research titled 'Lifetime risk of diabetes in metropolitan cities in India' was carried out by a team of experts based in the UK, India, and U.S – representing the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, and the Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.
In the study, the scientists used the age, sex and body mass index (BMI) of 9812 participants living in urban cities, to arrive at the lifetime diabetes risk. The results of the study revealed that:
- More than half of 20-year old males living in metropolitan Indian cities will develop diabetes in their lifetime. (55.5% precisely)
- 64.9% of 20-year old women living in metropolitan Indian cities will develop diabetes in their lifetime.
- This risk declined with age and at 60 years, it was found to be 27.5% in men and 37.7% in women without diabetes, will develop the condition.
- Furthermore, the lifetime risk of developing diabetes for obese individuals (BMI greater than 30) increases to 86.9% in men and 86% in women.
- Women generally had a higher lifetime risk across the lifespan.
With this study, scientists concluded that people with lower levels of BMI (less obese) have lesser chances of getting diabetes later in life.
Reasons behind increasing cases of diabetes among youth
While being overweight and obese is the main reason for the increasing diabetes cases among young people, there are other contributing factors too.
- Scientists believe that the inability of young people to adapt to the rapid industrialization, urbanization and economic development has triggered a wave of chronic diseases.
- Many young people living mostly sedentary lives, with less physical activity and exercise, go on to become overweight or obese
- Excess use of mobile phones and computer screens reduces the levels of melatonin in the body, a hormone which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Less sleep correlates with weight issues
- Fast-moving urban lifestyles have introduced unhealthy food options that tend to be processed, high-fat and high-calorie diets, which ultimately causes obesity.
- Researchers further believe that other reasons like - low birth weight, under-nourished mother during pregnancy, insulin resistance, naturally low lean mass, gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy), impaired glucose tolerance, and stress - in certain sections of the Indian population could also be responsible.
What can be done to reduce the risk of diabetes amongst youth?
As per the WHO, there are some simple measures which can help in preventing and delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes.
- Eat a healthy diet filled with naturally healthy nutrients and low on calories, sugars and saturated fats to maintain healthy body weight.
- Reduce the consumption of junk food and diet high in fat and calories. Look for healthy alternatives, for instance, instead of consuming carbonated beverages, switch to coconut water or lemon water.
- Limit on-screen time and take up some forms of physical activity. Practice a moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling or even dancing, daily for at least 30 minutes to keep the body active.
- Do not use mobile phones or laptops at least half an hour before going to bed as it would help the person sleep better.
- Prepare healthy snacks such as peanut butter sandwich, smoothie bowl or a bowl full of fruit salad to relieve mid-night cravings.
- Quit smoking/chewing tobacco as it is one of the risk factors for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and different cancers.
- Non-obese patients with no family history of diabetes must get screened every few years, to detect diabetes at an early stage.
- People with no family history of diabetes must pay heed to any signs of metabolic disorders as it can help in preventing and detecting diabetes early. The signs of metabolic syndrome include central obesity (collection of fat around the abdominal area), skin tags, fatty liver, polycystic ovary syndrome, high levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL cholesterol (also called good cholesterol).
Health professionals and epidemiologists should establish a standardized surveillance program to observe chronic diseases in young people. Simultaneously, they must monitor the risk factors such as increasing weight, low physical activity, sedentary lifestyle and dietary habits in youth.
With the regular screening of high-risk groups (obese and those with a family history), it is possible to detect type 2 diabetes in young people early in life, thus preventing its complications. Emphasis should be laid on promoting healthier lifestyles among children to reduce the risk of developing diabetes at a young age.