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Diabetes in China: the fast growing health issue

The number of diabetes cases worldwide reached an alarming 422 million people according to a World Health Organization (WHO) study last year. Eat healthily, be active and avoid excessive weight gain is the advice of WHO chief Margaret Chan. Governments and organizations alike are being called upon to ramp up measures to reduce diabetes risk factors with the 1980s case figures only amounting to 108 million.

China, maybe somewhat surprisingly, is one of the biggest movers in diabetes cases worldwide. Little over ten years ago, the Chinese diet was being touted as a potential solution to the West’s obesity issue. Now, however, the country looks set to find itself facing a significantly growing diabetes problem. So how big is the problem, and what can people do to reduce the risk of developing diabetes in China?

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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition which can affect the entire body. When someone has diabetes, their body finds it difficult to maintain healthy levels of glucose (a form of sugar). A hormone called insulin is used to successfully convert glucose into energy. Diabetes stops or restricts this process, and can leave high levels of energy in the blood of sufferers.

There are three types of diabetes; type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes:

  • Type 1: Occurs when the immune system attacks the beta cells of the pancreas, releasing little or no insulin to the body and causing sugar to build up in the blood. Between 5 to 10 percent of diabetes cases are Type 1.
  • Type 2: Occurs where the body cannot properly use the insulin that is released, or cannot make enough. This results in sugar also building up in the blood instead of being converted into energy. About 90 percent of people with diabetes suffer from Type 2.
  • Gestational diabetes: This is a temporary condition that can occur during pregnancy, affecting approximately 2 to 4 percent of all pregnancies. Its development can also lead to both mother and child developing type 1 or 2 diabetes later.

Having a high blood sugar level can cause complications such as chronic kidney disease, foot problems, non-traumatic limb amputation, eye disease and blindness, heart attack, stroke, anxiety, nerve damage, and erectile dysfunction. The exact causes of Type 1 diabetes is unknown but genetic susceptibility, environmental factors are strongly linked causes. Being overweight increases your risks of developing Type 2.

The growing problem of diabetes in China

With China accounting for 19 percent of the global population, the WHO study reveals that the country accounts for a significantly higher number of diabetes cases around the world. Of the 422 million cases, China accounts for 129.3 million; a whopping 30 percent of all cases. Even more concerning is the rate in which diabetes has grown in China. 9.4 percent of Chinese adults have diabetes, up from less than 1 percent in 1980.

The figures are concerning. Dr Hai-rim Shin, from the WHO’s regional office in Manila, told the SCMP that risk factors for diabetes in China has increased. 35.4 percent of Chinese adults are overweight, 7.3 percent are obese, and 23.8 percent of those studied were deemed to be “physically inactive” (not performing at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week).

Comparing China’s figures with the United States, American’s have a much higher proportion of overweight people (69.6 percent overweight, 35 percent obese, and 35 percent physically inactive), yet their prevalence of diabetes is a lower 9.1 percent. In the same article, the Asian Diabetes Prevention Initiative (ADPI) attributes this to Asians’ lower muscle mass and higher abdominal fat, both of which increase insulin resistance.

Finally, nationwide study in China has found a significant association between diabetes and all-cause mortality compared with those without diabetes. According to Dr Fiona Bragg, of the University of Oxford in England, the recent prevalence of diabetes in China makes its full on effect on mortality unknown, however it’s clear that those with diabetes experience a 9-year shorter lifespan.

Reducing your risk of diabetes

If you’re concerned about developing diabetes in China, then the ADPI has some general tips for reducing your risks:

  • Keep a healthy weight: This means be aware of any excess fat around your waist and adjusting your lifestyle in order to reduce body fat.
  • Eat a healthy diet: This includes reducing your consumption of refined grains, unhealthy fats and oils, red meat, and sugar.
  • Get active: Try to engage in as much physical activity during the week as possible; this includes small stuff like taking the stairs instead of an escalator, or walking rather than taking a car, train or bus when you can.

Exercise also helps reduce risk by improving your sleep and your mood, with both abnormal sleep and depression being linked to diabetes development.

Getting tested for diabetes is possible through your GP or hospital in a number of ways. The Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test can determine whether you have Type 1, 2 or prediabetes, otherwise your doctor might screen you with a random blood sugar test, fasting blood sugar test, or an oral glucose test. Glucose testing (initial challenge and follow-up tolerance testing) for pregnant women helps screen for gestational diabetes.

Testing can generally be paid for by your insurance as long as diabetes is not already a pre-existing condition. Getting your glucose levels checked and having a conversation with your doctor can help you determine your risk of developing diabetes, as well as help you adjust your lifestyle to reduce risk. With such an exponential growth in rates of diabetes in China, getting checked might just save your life.

Get insured

Health insurance can help you pay for the costs associated with diabetes. It’s possible for policies to pay some or all of your testing costs, and some plans may even cover the costs of medicine and equipment for those living with diabetes. If you’re not sure your plan does provide coverage for diabetes, or you want to find health insurance coverage that will, contact the experts at Pacific Prime China.

Their agents are familiar with a range of packages that can comprehensively insure your health, and the health of your loved ones. For a free, no obligation quote, call Pacific Prime China today!

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