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Opinion

Wednesday, 15 November 2017 | MYT 12:00 AM

Women are key agents in tackling diabetes

NOV 14 is World Diabetes Day, a day in which global communities come together to raise awareness on this insidious lifestyle disease. The prevalence of diabetes has been on the rise over the past decade, making it one of Malaysia’s most critical public health issues after obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

Currently, it is estimated that the number of diabetics in Malaysia has skyrocketed to 3.5 million. It was reported that, according to the Malaysian National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2015, one-fifth of Malaysian adults would have diabetes by 2020.

This year, the theme for World Diabetes Day is “Women and Diabetes – Our Right To A Healthy Future”. Looking at it, many people might wonder if women are more susceptible to diabetes even though the disease itself may not gender discriminate. Globally, there are currently over 199 million women living with diabetes, and this disease is reported to be the ninth leading cause of death in women around the world, causing 2.1 million deaths each year.

A look at the risk factors for diabetes reveal why women are more vulnerable to it. Being overweight and obesity are inseparable from diabetes, and indeed research has proven that obesity can increase the risks of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Even though women and men share similar diabetes complications, what many women may not know is that diabetes could have more severe impacts on them. First, women with diabetes suffer greater cardiovascular risks than men as pointed out by the American Heart Association. Diabetic women have a twofold increase in risk of coronary heart disease compared to their male counterparts, and nearly four times the risk for death from coronary heart disease.

There is evidence showing that kidney disease is another complication of diabetes that affects women more than men. This is because diabetic women normally suffer from a lower level of oestrogen which is associated with kidney disease.

Additionally, depression is reported to be twice as common in women with diabetes than it is in men with the condition. Research also shows that diabetic women are more prone to poor blood sugar control, obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol level than men with diabetes.

This year’s World Diabetes Day gives us a good opportunity, both as individuals and as a community, to reflect on the vital relationship between women and diabetes. It is the right time for us to explore how women can be “change agents” in tackling diabetes.

Isabelle Allende, the famous Chilean novelist, once said: “If a woman is empowered, her children and her family will be better off. If families prosper, the village prospers, and eventually so does the whole country.” Women are “gatekeepers” of family health and wellness. It is important that they take the lead role in advocating a healthier diet and lifestyle, and scheduling regular exercise and health checks to prevent diabetes.

Education is an equally important task. The National Health and Morbidity Survey reported an upward trend in undiagnosed diabetes among adults above 18 years old from 4.5% in 2006 to 9.2% in 2015.

Women as daughters, wives and mothers must empower future generations with the right knowledge to strengthen their capacity in preventing and caring for diabetes.

PROFESSOR DR CHIN KIN FAH

Taylor’s University