Eat well, exercise more to reduce diabetes in Gulf doctors warn

Posted on 14-11-2022

Doctors warn of the risks of the disease as November 14 marks World Diabetes Day

Doctors in the Gulf have warned people to eat better and do more exercise, in a bid to reduce the high numbers of people contracting diabetes in the region.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not make enough insulin – the hormone that breaks down sugar. This leads to a higher quantity of sugar in the blood stream which in the long term can cause heart disease, loss of vision, and kidney disease.

Around 73 million people have diabetes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF). This number is expected to rise to 135.7 million by 2045.

“[The] number of diabetic patients in MENA region is growing at a rapid pace,” Ashwin Pankajakshan, endocrinologist at NMC Royal Hospital Dubai, told Al Arabiya English.

“We [will continue to] see the number of patients with diabetes increasing in huge numbers unless [there is more] awareness about healthy lifestyle and applying it in day-to-day life happens in a big way,” he added.

According to the IDF, 12 percent of adults in the UAE have diabetes, in Saudi Arabia just under 18 percent, Kuwait 25 percent and in Qatar 16.4 percent. Diabetes was responsible for 796,000 deaths in the MENA region in 2021, the IDF says on its website.

“Reduced physical inactivity, sitting jobs, poor sleep patterns and unhealthy food habits are mostly responsible for the increasing prevalence of diabetes,” Pankajakshan said.

Dr Naji Jameel Aljohani, consultant endocrinologist at King Fahad Medical City in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh told Al Arabiya English that the disease can be eliminated if people make an effort to cut out sugar and eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.

He also recommended people walk every day for 30 minutes and sleep seven to eight hours a night.

“Diabetes can be eliminated by simple lifestyle modifications,” said Naji, who is also a member of the Saudi Charitable Association of Diabetes.

“I am seeing a lot of patients with diabetes on a regular basis,” Dr Bashar Sahar, Endocrinologist at the Saudi German Hospital in Dubai told Al Arabiya English. “We need to change our lifestyle, do more exercise, become less sedentary and change our diet [to a] Mediterranean [one].”

One other difference seen in the Middle east is that people tend to have diabetes at a much younger age as compared to many other parts of the world, Pankajakshan said, adding that many of his patients are in their 20s and 30s.

Sara Abdelghany, dietician, and nutritionist at HealthBay polyclinic in Dubai said that “despite the young population” she still sees a lot of young people in her clinic with diabetes, or at risk of contracting the disease.

Nearly 50 million people worldwide are living with Impaired Glucose Tolerance, according to the IDF, which puts them at increased risk of developing type two diabetes. This number is expected to rise to 36 million by 2030 and 81 million by 2045.

But Abdelghany said, as well as lifestyle changes, the disease can be prevented by screening.

“The good thing is we are still screening early, and we are still able to stop the progression of the disease,” she said. “Early screening is very important in stopping the disease from progressing. With early detection we can easily beat diabetes.”