We must do away with myths, sentimental traditions in fight against diabetes

Veteran journalist and freelance writer Surjit Singh Flora. 

The government of Kenya plans to eliminate trans fats and other 'bad' cholesterol in solidified cooking oils. The fat is considered the worst, that anyone can eat.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), such fats increase the risk of heart disease, a leading killer of adults in Kenya.

WHO estimates that the prevalence of diabetes in Kenya is at 3.3% and predicts a rise to 4.5% by 2025. Two-thirds of diabetics may, however, be undiagnosed.

Globally, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), are the leading cause of death. Diabetes mellitus is fourth.

This condition is characterized by chronic hyperglycemia and disturbances in carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. In 2008, there were 1.3 million cases of diabetes in Kenya. This number is expected to rise to more than 2 million by 2030. 

Diabetes Kenya, an organisation dedicated to improving the health and well-being of Kenyans, especially those with Diabetes, provides high-quality education and care and advocates for prevention and treatment.

Its vision for the country is to be a diabetes-free nation and "An Anchor of Hope" in the face of the growing tide of the Kenyan diabetes epidemic. The organisation publishes a calendar that includes free blood sugar screenings, education, and prevention camps, to raise awareness of the epidemic of diabetes in Kenya.          

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. [iStockphoto]

According to health experts, South Asians have a higher risk of myocardial infarction and higher proportionate mortality from cardiovascular disease compared with most other race/ethnic groups in Kenya.

These experts admit that although South Asian Kenyans do not, usually, fit the typical profile of someone vulnerable to heart attacks or other major heart-related ailments, they have an increased chance of developing cardiovascular diseases and suffer a higher death rate than any other ethnic group.

Actually, most African cuisines consist of a starchy sticky meal made from about anything from yams to plantains to even wheat.

The preference by South Asians and Kenyans for oil-rich food with lots of refined carbohydrates and high sugar consumption such as samosas, pakoras, and sweets have been blamed for many an illness, including diabetes and heart disease. Experts, however, say such food habits alone may not be adequate to explain the reason for the high incidence of cardiovascular disease among South Asians and African countries.

Also, I won’t be surprised if the rate was higher for women. I don’t know much about the risk factors for men specifically.

Let’s start with women, a lot of women are slim, but this is not equal to being fit. They don’t have a regular fitness regime integrated into their routine. Most of them, think household chores suffice for exercise. Then there is the other myth that being fat is a sign of good health.

Our food inherently has a high glycemic index (lots of rice/ chapatis) and we often top it up with ghee butter and oil, lots of it.

In some communities, older women make a woman drink cup full of molten ghee after giving birth. Consequently, some women are not able to lose the weight gained after childbirth.

Diabetes is an epidemic in countries with low incomes. [iStockphoto]

They lose whatever muscle tone they had though. ‘Don’t lift that, it’ll knot up your stomach’, is a common caution. ‘Don’t eat a mango, you’ll get a miscarriage’ goes another one.

On other hand, women think, the gym is the bad boys’ place. That’s why they have few gyms in smaller towns.

Yoga inhibitions are compounded by excessive cautions given by many gurus; do it only after bathing, eat at least three hours, and drink water one hour before a session. That’s too much.

What could a sip of water or a biscuit do, I’m wondering. Is yoga a surgical procedure? So, those already hard-pressed for time won’t bother to move at all. They already did the household work, that should suffice for exercise, don’t they?

As we raise awareness about diabetes this month, let us do away with some of the myths and sentimental traditions that make us vulnerable to developing the illness.

Fortunately, organisations such as Diabetes Kenya and the WHO have availed plenty of resources to educate people on how to live a healthy lifestyle even for those living with diabetes.

-Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer based in Brampton Canada