The Diabetes Express

In the September 13th edition of the New York Times there was an article on the diabetes epidemic that is effecting the world, mainly developing countries. India was the main focus of the piece entitled, “Modern Ways Open India’s Doors to Diabetes”(by N.R. Kleinfeld), and it is clear that globalization is one of the lead causes of this increase in diabetes throughout developing countries

Often called the disease of development, diabetes(mainly type 2) is spreading rapidly throughout nations that are industrializing and taking on western eating habits. The reason why India is so affected by diabetes is “…Indians have such a pronounced genetic vulnerability to the disease, they ten to contract it 10 years earlier than people in developed countries. It is because India is so youthful – half the population is under 25 – that the future of diabetes is so chilling.” It is a scary truth considering that we are now becoming so dependent on India for a lot of jobs that if major parts of the population are being struck by this disease it could have an effect on us. Considering that most of the jobs outsourced to India are jobs that require a person to sit at a computer all day and in a market where competition is high for those jobs Indians are going to work hard to keep their job, putting in even more time sitting in front of a computer. So if all the excercise is they are getting during the day is moving their fingers over a keyboard its no wonder why obesity is on the rise which of course directly links to diabetes.

There are many treatments for diabetes that can help people live normal lives but in developing countries like India they are often uneducated about diabetes. In addition “Few in India have health insurance, and among those who do, policies generally do not cover diabetes. Middle-class diabetics often exhaust a quarter or more of their income on medications and care.” Out of the 1.1 billion people living in India 35 million people in India have diabetes and that number is expected to grow to about 75 million in 20 years. This epidemic is not only confined to India but many other developing nations where fried and processed food has made its way into the diets of the people. People also remain very uneducated about this disease and often buy into folklore and other witchcraft that does nothing to cure the disease.

It will be hard to break the trend especially considering cultural influences of India and many other developing countries. For a long time being overweight was considered a sign of prosperity because it meant you had enough money to feed yourself but now with that more unhealthy(but really good tasting) options are available to these countries it is no wonder why the world is gaining too much weight. In addition “sweets are obligatory at social occasions – birthdays, office parties, mourning observances for the dead – and during any visit to someon’s home, a signal of how welcome the visitors are and that God is present.” These cultural influences are only accelerating the problem even further. Since I am on the topic of culture and social influences there are also social consequences of diabetes. Marriage by itself is already hard enough (or so I am told) but when you add in a chronic disease and often financial problems that comes with diabetes India has seen an increase in divorce. Woman are being stigmatized by this disease often having to marry into a lower caste and men are an experiencing an increase in impotence.

Developing nations are now a land of stark contrast where people are either suffering from AIDS or malaria that leaves the victims in an unspeakably weak and diminished state or they are suffering from diabetes because of obesity. And according the United Nations, there are more people are overweight than undernourished in the world. Its almost unbelieveable to think that this statement is true, is this where progress is really leading us?

Our obesity epidemic in America has started to spill over into other countries, of course this is not completely our fault but it is true that many countries are trying to be like us. But developing nations have the misfortune of not being us (not that we are doing much better at curving diabetes or obesity) because they don’t have the resources or the money to deal with the diabetes epidemic. Add to that the fact that they already have a genetic prediposition of getting diabetes and you have a powder keg(full of sugar) that has exploded in these developing nations.

So anyway you look at it you can’t ignore the health problems that globalization has caused, now if we could just get Richard Simmons to go over to these developing countries I think the world would be a better place. 🙂


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