Diabetes remains an alarming national health issue despite the concerted efforts that have been made so far. As The National reported yesterday, more than 280,000 cases were diagnosed last year, bringing the total number of diagnosed cases to more than a million – a rise of 35 per cent in a single year.
This alarming trend is a call to action, requiring a complete shift in strategy to reverse these numbers. This is not only a public issue but also an economic problem. The cost of treating an epidemic of a preventable disease takes a significant amount of our healthcare budget, which could be used more beneficially. This cost – both in financial and health terms – could be reduced significantly if effective prevention methods are implemented.
Extreme measures are needed to address the well-known range of factors that can lead to diabetes. Awareness campaigns about healthier eating and taking more exercise have not been enough to change people’s behaviour. They must be nudged into changing their lifestyles to be more active and eat more healthily.
With no single solution to this, this task will require a range of measures. We can start with infrastructure, by redesigning our streets and public spaces to encourage people to walk more each day. We have discussed this during the mayor of Oklahoma City’s recent visit to the UAE. Their example of how their city design encouraged residents to become more active is a model for us, even in our entirely different climate. Innovative solutions they used included readily accessible climate-controlled venues – for us, it would be to beat summer heat, while for them it was to cope with their bitter winters. Our public transport should also encourage drivers to leave their cars behind.
Another part of the argument is to restrict the advertisement and sales of sugary drinks, fast food and other unhealthy diets. We can also do more to encourage people to join gyms and exercise in their free time. Studies have shown that just 30 minutes of exercise a day can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 40 per cent. Introducing more government-sponsored public gyms, for example, will encourage more people to exercise.
Making a cultural shift like this is never easy but its possible with the right approach. It’s high time that we grew tougher in our fight against this epidemic that is almost entirely preventable and which blights far too many people’s lives.