That the Indian government is thinking on the lines of imposing a tax on sugary drinks and junk food is welcome news. Given the alarming rise of diabetes in India, there is active intervention needed to control the rise.
A WHO report says that the number of people with diabetes in India is likely to cross 101 million by 2030, while Lancet published a study just a day before World Health Day that said there has been a fourfold increase in the number of diabetics from 1980 to 2014 – from 108 million to 422 million. It ranks China, India and the US are among the top three countries with the most number of people with diabetes.
Prevalence has more than doubled for men in India and risen 80% among women. While the incidence is higher in urban areas with states in the South reporting especially high rates, what is worrying is the rise in rural India, a result of rapid urbanization.
Of special concern is Gestational Diabetes Melitus (GDM), which remains neglected in India and has a severe impact on child and maternal health. India has one of the highest rates of GDM in the world, with over five million women affected every year. While the worldwide prevalence figure is 15%, in India it is 22 to 25%.
The increasing prevalence of GDM is linked to growing urbanization, reduced levels of physical activity, and changes in dietary patterns and rising obesity
Women with gestational diabetes report pregnancy-related complications like high blood pressure, large birth weight babies and obstructed labour. They are also more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes in the future and therefore special attention needs to be paid to this population in India.
A 2013 study by the Kerala-based Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies found that women diabetics are even more vulnerable as they cannot abandon their role of looking after the family and are expected to put the health of other family members above their own. This leaves them with far less time and resources for their own health.
One major reason for the rapid rise in India is lack of awareness. A 2012 study by the Brussels-based International Diabetes Federation found that over 60% of diabetics in India had never been screened or diagnosed because of this, while over 63% were unaware of the complications that arise from the disease.
A combination of food patterns, sedentary lifestyles, obesity and genetics makes Indians more vulnerable to diabetes. It is time we acknowledge that and tackle the problem at a war footing.
Apart from nationwide screening programmes, early detection and treatment must become a part of primary health services. Awareness has to be created about dietary habits as well, with greater emphasis on fiber rather than sugar and starches.