NEW DELHI — Diabetes, a silent killer in the vast list of innumerable diseases associated with the urban population and the third leading risk factor for premature mortality after high blood pressure and tobacco use, is preventable, a top World Health Organization official has said.

“Yes, a large proportion of diabetes is preventable,” WHO India representative Dr. Henk Bekedam told IANS.

“Rapid urbanization, a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet and increasing life expectancy are the factors for the rising prevalence of diabetes,” Bekedam explained.

The disease is characterized as a condition in which the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood is high and affects around 350 million people worldwide. According to WHO, this number is likely to double within 20 years. 

India alone has an estimated 67 million people living with diabetes, of which more than 90 percent have Type 2 diabetes. 

Yet, in the face of such alarming statistics, the common man can prevent the onset of diabetes. But in the metros, where people are continuously stretched between professional and personal commitments, there is a lack of time to take up any physical activity, compounded by unhealthy eating habits.

Genetically, Indians are prone to diabetes, as they have more fat in their liver and pancreas. In addition, the food consumed by the common man also contains high levels of sugar and fat.

“Maintaining a healthy weight through appropriate eating habits and following an active lifestyle is the key to preventing diabetes and also to keeping other risk factors like heart attack, stroke and hypertension at bay,” Dr. Anoop Misra, executive chairman at the national capital’s Fortis Hospital, told IANS.

Suggesting various measures, experts pointed out that maintaining a healthy body mass index is imperative. 

“The BMI of a person should range between 23-25, exceeding which, the vulnerability of a person to diabetes increases,” renowned dietitian and nutritionist here Ritika Samaddar told IANS.

Also, food consumed needs to be closely monitored, and both its quantity and quality should be checked on a regular basis. 

“It is advisable to cut down on the intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates, such as rice, potatoes and maida (flour),” Samaddar added.

Foods high in monounsaturated fat — good fat and a healthy alternative to the trans fats and refined polyunsaturated fats found in most processed foods — should be highly preferred.

“Oils such as canola oil, which has the least saturated fat than other culinary oils and is free of trans fat and cholesterol, are a good option,” Samaddar noted.

Finally, following an active lifestyle is the need of the hour. Exercise not only manages one's weight and maintains the right BMI but also improves digestion.

“Thirty minutes of aerobic physical activity (walking), 15 minutes of activity during work (a 5-minute walk every 2-3 hours) and 10-15 minutes of strength training with small weights can keep diabetes under control,” Misra stated. 

Diabetes is also associated with co-morbidities like weight gain, obesity, hypertension and heart disease. Blood glucose levels can be reduced through medication and lifestyle changes.

Furthermore, monitoring the intake of sugar and opting for foods such as brown rice, oats, etc. as opposed to fried foods can help diabetic patients keep their disease under control, Samaddar explained.

Maintaining a disciplined life, awareness about the disease and preventive drugs are key instruments to preventing and controlling diabetes.

“By scaling up prevention, strengthening care and enhancing surveillance, beating diabetes can be an achievable task,” Bekedam concluded.

Diabetes was the theme of World Health Day, April 7.

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