Opt for a healthy life to fight diabetes

The prevalence of diabetes mellitus in Bangladesh is increasing rapidly. The country ranks second among South Asian nations with the highest number of diabetic adults. Previously known to afflict only the affluent, diabetes is now a health concern among the rural population as well. But the cause behind the incidence of diabetes, i.e. type-2 diabetes, is often traced back to the poor lifestyle choices of the patients. Patients’ early-life inclination towards sugar, carbohydrates, and fatty foods, and reluctance to be physically active come at a heavy cost. Diabetes does not only compromise their health but also affects their financial and social stance. 

Dilara Maqbool, Consultant, Nutrition, Labaid Cardiac Hospital, said, “Even if the patient has a family history of diabetes, the disease can be delayed and controlled with proper management of food habits and physical activity.” However, the reality is often the opposite, and today many young people are diagnosed with diabetes.

Jubair Islam fell victim to his undisciplined lifestyle and was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes at the age of only 24. As an independent and ambitious young man, he let his intensive work take over his life sparing very little time for him to concentrate on healthy meals. “Since I live independently and have to mostly eat out, it is very difficult for me to ensure a healthy diet. Unfortunately, even now, my glucose levels fluctuate above the recommended value. I, however, walk long miles daily to make up for it as much as I can,” shared Jubair.

Health concerns often become less important than work for many young professionals. Work pressure and poor work-life balance have desensitised young people to the body’s warning signals or the need to consult medical advice when needed. Thus, it is no surprise that today’s desk jobs are one of the primary reasons for an idle life which exposes the body to many health risks such as diabetes.

Similarly, the use of smartphones and computers has put a majority of the young generation at risk of developing diabetes. Young people have succumbed to a virtual life that cuts down on all forms of physical activity. Children, instead of kicking a football or running a lap, rather enjoy hyper-realistic games on screen. In addition, their junk food consumption worsens their health. Dr Hajera Mahtab, Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology at Birdem, and Dr Tofail Ahmed, Course Coordinator of Distance Learning Project (DLP) at Diabetic Association of Bangladesh, have both expressed great concern regarding the lifestyle of children. They both agreed that awareness of unhealthy food habits and inactive life should start from an early age.

Dr Mahtab said, “The increasing obesity among our children is a bad sign. Schools should play an active role in educating their students about a healthy diet. They should advertise the right kinds of food to kids so that they adopt healthy food habits from an early stage in life.”

 Dr Ahmed believes this is a national crisis. He added, “An individualistic attempt is not enough in this case. There should be a supportive environment provided by the community to integrate healthy choices in all our lives. Marketing of junk food and the culture of celebrating with junk food is not the right way to go. Additionally, national policies that make educational institutions promote sports and activities and incentivise students can have a positive impact on the health curve.”

Prevention is indeed better than cure. According to International Diabetes Federation, 80 percent of type-2 diabetes cases are preventable through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. Healthy lifestyle is also the solution for those already diagnosed with the disease. Dilara Maqbool briefly sketched the do’s of a diabetic patient: eat every three hours to keep the blood glucose level consistent throughout the day; engage in physical exercise for 30-45 minutes at least five days a week, preferably in the evening; finish dinner at least two hours before bedtime; sleep early to ensure proper functioning of insulin. She also strongly discouraged smoking which can alter appetite and trouble the meal routine. Other harmful everyday habits include opting for a lift instead of taking the stairs and taking a rickshaw for a short commute as opposed to walking a few steps. The latter is apparently a growing concern in rural Bangladesh as well. Dr Mahtab included in the list of risk factors hypertension and heart diseases which are closely associated to diabetes.

All medical experts will agree that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the easiest way to control diabetes. The more a patient makes good lifestyle choices, the better his/her health will be. It’s the after-effects of uncontrolled diabetes that leave a patient in anguish. Kidney disease, nerve damage, visual problems, and risk of infections are some of the many consequences. Even though some patients are resistant to the changes, Dr Hajera Mahtab and Dr Tofail Ahmed and nutritionist Dilara Maqbool acknowledged that most patients are more health conscious now, and therefore more cooperative to the treatment procedure.

Shamima Nasrin, a homemaker who was diagnosed with diabetes five years ago, is one such patient who tries her best to abide by a healthy lifestyle. “My life after my diagnosis is certainly very different than what it used to be. I am now more cautious about the food I eat and my daily calorie intake. I also perform moderate exercises at home. Of course it’s a challenge to always be so careful but I think my strongest drive is to live a healthy life as long as I can.” Along with a strict check on her diet, she tests her blood glucose levels regularly and maintains follow-up checkups. She also believes that a good understanding of her disease and medications that she acquired through studying out of self-interest has helped her along the way.

There is no denying that the increasing occurrence of diabetes in Bangladesh is worrisome. But it can also be fought against with simple lifestyle adjustments. In the words of renowned diabetologists, “Diabetes is not the real threat but, when uncontrolled, its resulting complications are what put the patient’s health at risk.” Hence, if you have diabetes, then it might just be a warning for you to attend to your body’s needs. Act before it’s too late. For everyone else, educate yourself on the issue and pick up the healthy habits that are now almost obsolete. After all, health is wealth.


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