Western lifestyle behind rise of type 2 diabetes in Middle East

by Barbara Hewitt on January 26, 2015

Demographic and lifestyle factors are largely responsible for an alarming increase of type 2 diabetes in Qatar and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, according to a new study.

The research from the Weill Cornell Medical Colleges in New York and Qatar found that a more ‘westernized’ lifestyle, characterised by calorie-rich diets and reduced physical activity, has made people in the region more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes.


A more westernized lifestyle has made people in the region more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes

The research say that their findings highlight a need to raise awareness of diabetes, promote physical activity and emphasize the risks associated with obesity.

“The Qatar National Health Strategy has identified diabetes as one of the high-priority diseases for preventive healthcare, and for good reason,” said senior author Dr. Alvin Mushlin, a professor of healthcare policy and research and of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.

“In addition to its direct effect on health and quality of life, diabetes is a cause of conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease and associated heart attacks, strokes and earlier death,” he added.

Paradoxically, the increase of diabetes and other non-communicable diseases in this region is largely tied to major improvements in economic conditions, the researchers also pointed out. There have been remarkable improvements in the health infrastructure, a lengthening of life expectancy, an increasingly aging population, and the fast pace of urbanisation.

To determine the risk factors that have led increased incidence of the disease, the researchers looked at patient records for more than 450 people, including Qatari nationals and immigrants, with type 2 diabetes who had received care from outpatient adult diabetes clinics from 2006 to 2008. They compared these patients to nearly 350 other patients who received care from various outpatient and inpatient clinics.

Since more than 80% of the population of Qatar consists of immigrants from countries throughout the Arab world, South Asia and other regions, the researchers also conducted a sub-analysis of only Qatari nationals to see if this group had a different risk factor profile than the population at large.

“In our study, Qatari nationality was the strongest risk factor for type 2 diabetes followed by higher income, obesity, no college education and no vigorous or moderate exercise,” said lead author Dr. Paul Christos, a lecturer in healthcare policy and research in the Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology.

“While further evaluation of type 2 diabetes risk factors among the Qatari population, as opposed to the resident population, is important and of interest, these findings highlight the need to focus short term type 2 diabetes,” said study co-author Dr. Laith Abu-Raddad, an associate professor and principal investigator of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Group at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar.

He added that this should focus on addressing demographic and lifestyle risk factors to achieve substantial and timely declines in type 2 diabetes levels.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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