Government taking battle with diabetes into classrooms

Health officials bid to reduce high number of diabetics in UAE by educating children on the dangers of the disease.

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DUBAI // Ministry of Health officials have found the latest figures on the number of diabetics in the UAE so “shocking’ that they have taken the fight against the disease into the classroom.

World Health Organisation’s most comprehensive report on diabetes shows there are now 422 million people with the disease worldwide. This includes about 43 million in the Eastern Mediterranean region, which, for the purposes of the report, extends to the UAE. Nearly a millon of those are in the UAE.

Dr Hussein Abdul Rahman Al Rand, assistant undersecretary for health centres and clinics at the Ministry of Health and Prevention, was alarmed by the latest WHO figures, which showed diabetes accounted for 3 per cent of all deaths in the UAE.

“This is a huge number, and quite shocking,” he said. “It was higher than I thought and, by 2030, it is predicted to get worse, so we must raise the flag that diabetes is a real problem now.”

Data from the International Diabetes Federation to mark World Diabetes Day last year indicated there were 803,900 diabetics in the UAE.

The UAE is determined to reduce incidences of the disease from 19 per cent of the population to 16 per cent by 2021. And in a bid to meet that challenge, a ministry programme to check children in all government schools for diabetes is being extended into private schools in the next academic year.

As well as workshops and special sessions in the classroom on the subject, technology is being used to help get the message across.

Fatima Asfandyar Al Zarouni, head of the health education section at the ministry, said health advisers were working closely with school nurses.

“We follow the national obesity indicators in schools, where any nurse can offer lessons with the latest updates,” she said.

“There is also a Health Heroes mobile application launching this month. It shows how to shop and cook healthily by making virtual meals. It is interactive and teaches children how to make the right choices.

“Many people are undiagnosed with diabetes, but it is easy to get checked with a simple blood test at any MoH health clinic.”

Statistics published by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi in 2014 showed 14 per cent of pupils across the emirate’s schools were overweight, while 15 per cent of them suffered from obesity, a risk factor to diabetes.

Dr Al Rand said: “We are encouraging people to eat healthily, get regular exercise and get educated – particularly schoolchildren.

“School is the best place to get information across to children about diabetes and healthy living. We should try to control the access to fast food but awareness about delivering the right message that there is a problem now is important.”

Other studies used by the authority revealed that only 27 per cent of pupils did 60 minutes of physical activity daily.

The authority is working on reviewing initiatives with the goal of eliminating childhood obesity in Abu Dhabi. Measures being taken include developing health and sports curricula, a healthy nutritional system at schools and community awareness-raising programmes, in addition to urban planning that favoured physical activity.

The Eastern Mediterranean region had the highest prevalence of diabetes in the world, affecting 43 million people, said Dr Ala Alwan, regional director for the WHO.

The prevalence rose from 6 per cent of the region’s population in 1980 to 14 per cent in 2014, mostly because of rising type 2 diabetes rates, which in turn is largely the result of excess body weight, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets, said Dr Alwan.

Diabetes caused 1.5 million deaths worldwide in 2012. Higher-than-optimal blood glucose caused an additional 2.2 million deaths by increasing the risks of cardiovascular and other diseases.

The WHO study used data from 4.4 million adults in different regions of the world to estimate age-adjusted diabetes prevalence for 200 countries, with no country having any meaningful decrease in diabetes prevalence.

The largest increases in rates were in Pacific island nations, followed by the Middle East and North Africa.

Between 1980 and 2014, diabetes became more common among men than women, and rates of diabetes rose significantly in many low and middle-income countries, including China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt and Mexico.