Sat, Jun 03, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Adolescent diabetes rising alongside wealth in India


Rohin Sarin is midway through his ninth grade geography class when he starts feeling light-headed and dizzy, a sign that his blood sugar levels are dipping. He quietly removes his insulin pen from his school bag, gives himself one of four daily jabs and takes a bite of an energy bar.

The 15-year-old’s classmates in New Delhi have seen the ritual so often they are no longer curious. Rohin is one of a growing number of Indians with diabetes, the disease increasingly afflicting children and adolescents in the fast-growing South Asian country.

More than two decades of rapid economic growth has changed Indians’ lifestyles. People eat out more often, and prefer Western-style junk food, such as burgers and pizza, over traditional lentil and vegetable meals. They are also more sedentary, using cars and public transportation instead of walking or riding bicycles, and entertaining themselves with TV.

The changes have brought a sharp rise in obesity, along with lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, even as India still has some of the world’s worst levels of malnourishment and stunted childhood growth due to a paucity of food.

“Over the last 20 years, we are seeing a huge explosion ... mainly because of increasing childhood obesity,” said Monica Arora, a specialist physician with the Public Health Foundation of India.

Nearly 30 percent of India’s teenagers are obese, nearly twice the number in 2010, Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare statistics showed.

India has 70 million diabetics, although it has no data on how many are children and likely has millions more cases that have not been diagnosed due to spotty public health facilities and a lack of awareness outside big cities.

Health experts have warned that India is on track to reach 120 million cases, or nearly 10 percent of the population, in the next eight years.

That would put it on par with the US, which counts 9.3 percent of the population as diabetic, or China, where 11 percent of the population — or 109 million — have been diagnosed, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

Alarmed by the trend, the government is working to screen 500 million people aged 30 and older for diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases by 2019, and eventually hopes to roll out the screening program to the entire population of 1.3 billion.

Authorities are also working with schools to “catch children in the prediabetic stage,” Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare Jagat Prakash Nadda said.

Medical research suggests Indians are genetically more susceptible to developing diabetes, thanks to a tendency to put on weight around the belly, Arora said.

Most patients come from wealthier families and live in urban areas. Meanwhile, India’s countryside villages are home to one of every five malnourished children in the world.

“When you consider the long-term costs of the disease, it is an extremely worrisome prospect,” Arora said.

Most of India’s diabetes cases are type 2, often occurring when extra weight limits the body’s ability to produce or use insulin to turn food into energy. By comparison, type 1 diabetes is a natural inability to produce insulin.

Health experts are most worried about young people developing type 2, which is also known as adult-onset diabetes. The disease requires a lifetime of attention to diet and exercise, and access to proper medical treatment, without which diabetics are at risk of blindness, limb amputations, heart or kidney failure and stroke.

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