New initiative launched to combat growth of type 2 diabetes in Asia

by Barbara Hewitt on May 2, 2014

The rapidly emerging diabetes epidemic in Asia has the potential to overwhelm health care systems, undermine economic growth, and inflict unprecedented levels of disability on the world’s most populous continent, it is claimed.

A joint initiative between the National University of Singapore and Harvard School of Public Health in the United States has been launched to increase awareness of type 2 diabetes in the region.

The site seeks to offer science-based information to help reduce diabetes in the Asian population

The site seeks to offer science-based information to help reduce diabetes in the Asian population

The Asian Diabetes Prevention Initiative website aims to offer Asian countries authoritative, science-based information for the general public, health professionals, and public health practitioners, emphasizing what can and must be done to reduce the prevalence of diabetes in Asia.

‘Asia has become the epicentre of the global diabetes epidemic. By providing the latest advances in research on epidemiology and state of the art practices for diabetes prevention through lifestyle and environmental changes, we will raise the public’s awareness about this silent epidemic and spur urgent actions to address it,’ said Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH and co-editorial director of the new website.

Created by nutrition experts at HSPH and the university, the site accepts no subsidies or commercial support from any industry, so it can deliver an unbiased perspective on diabetes prevention.

It has what is described as a thorough, awareness raising introduction to diabetes in Asia, from which countries have the highest prevalence to why Asians are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

It also has concise summaries on the causes of type 2 diabetes, giving people the information they need to monitor their risk for diabetes and maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. Also listed are strategies for diabetes prevention in key settings, giving families and community leaders roadmaps to help prevent diabetes in their homes and communities.

There is a quick and convenient diabetes risk calculator, giving individuals a personal estimate of their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, so those who are most at risk can start changing their habits before it’s too late.

Diabetes is a major health concern in Asia as Asian populations are more vulnerable to developing type 2 diabetes at lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than those of European ancestry.

However, much of the information on diabetes prevention on the internet focuses on Western settings, such as foods commonly eaten in Western countries, according to Rob van Dam, associate professor at SSHSPH and co-editorial director of the new website.

‘Our website takes into account risk profiles and dietary and lifestyle habits that are common in Asia and can thus provide more relevant information,’ he explained.

He pointed out that the vast majority of cases of type 2 diabetes are preventable through changes at the individual and societal level. Scientific evidence shows that facilitating a handful of key behaviours could help prevent many cases of type 2 diabetes.

These include choosing healthier foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, limiting unhealthy foods such as refined grains, red and processed meats, and sugary beverages. Using healthy oils for cooking instead of unhealthy oils and fats such as palm oil, lard, and butter is also an important step.

People at risk of developing type 2 diabetes are also encouraged to increase their physical activity, stop smoking and try to get the right amount of sleep.

‘We need to dispel the prevailing myth that type 2 diabetes is inevitable if it runs in the family. The scientific evidence is compelling that type 2 diabetes can be prevented. We need to get the message out loud and clear now, before the diabetes storm in Asia worsens,’ said Lilian Cheung, Director of Health Promotion and Communication in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the 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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