Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre (UKMMC) recently conducted a survey amongst its diabetes patients to determine their level of understanding of the disease.
Diabetes remains one of the greatest health challenges today, and its incidence is on an upward trajectory globally.
In response to this worrying trend, the UKMMC survey was initiated to gain better insights on the management of the disease, with the purpose of helping diabetes patients control the disease more effectively.
The survey was conducted amongst diabetes patients from the hospital over a period of two months. The UKMMC specialist diabetes clinic currently treats 100 patients with type 1 diabetes and 1,200 patients with type 2 diabetes on a monthly basis.
Throughout September and October 2011, UKMMC diabetes patients were polled, and in most cases, it was done with face-to-face interviews with the help of UKMMC diabetic educator nurses.
Prof Nor Azmi Kamaruddin, head of diabetes & endocrinology, UKMMC, who led this initiative, said: "Diabetes prevalence in Malaysia has almost doubled in the last decade in parallel with the doubling of overweight/obesity amongst the population. Through this survey, we hope to find out more about the knowledge level amongst our diabetes patients, and stressing to them the importance of weight management in controlling diabetes.
"With one in seven Malaysian adults having diabetes, it is crucial to create better understanding about this disease."
Patients with diabetes are at increased risk for complications involving the eye, heart, kidney and various other organs. Associated risk factors that can further increase the risk of complications among diabetics include excess body weight, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels, amongst others.
Being overweight or obese can hasten the onset of diabetes complications.
The UKMMC survey results showed that 62 per cent of participants were overweight when first diagnosed with diabetes.
While over 85 per cent of participants polled understood that weight loss was helpful in managing type 2 diabetes, only 31 per cent of participants have been successful in managing their weight.
In addition, over 70 per cent of participants consider being overweight as a contributing factor to developing type 2 diabetes, and nearly 60 per cent were dissatisfied about their current weight.
Diabetes cases in Malaysia are predominantly type 2 diabetes. According to the third National Health and Morbidity Survey 2006, there was a 41 per cent increase in the prevalence of individuals with abdominal obesity.
Figures show 1.8 million Malaysians were diagnosed with diabetes in 2010, a significant increase from 1.4 million in 2006.
In 2010, diabetes was responsible for more than 23,800 deaths in Malaysia.
Prof Dr Nor Azmi Kamaruddin said: "One key finding that we were able to conclude was that 75 per cent of the participants polled snacked to prevent hypoglycemia.
"Hypoglycemia associated with current medications can lead to increased snacking and are deterring diabetes patients from controlling their weight effectively.
"The majority are aware of the importance of weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle in managing their diabetes, but a high percentage of them are still unsuccessful in controlling their blood sugar levels and weight to an optimum level."
The age group with the highest prevalence of diabetes is those between 60 and 64 years old, although there is a sharp increase in the prevalence of diabetes among those aged 30 and above as revealed in the third National Health and Morbidity Survey 2006.
With two in five Malaysians obese or overweight, the association between obesity and diabetes is one that should be highlighted more aggressively to encourage Malaysians to maintain an active and balanced lifestyle.
A strong genetic predisposition to diabetes should also encourage a healthier lifestyle and preventive action to keep this disease at bay.
The World Health Organization has estimated that in the year 2030, Malaysia would have a total of 2.48 million people with diabetes.
In conclusion to the survey, it is evident that a majority of obese or overweight people struggle to reduce their weight and control their diabetes, but with proper counseling and lifestyle intervention, these may be overcome.
Some newer medications that reduce blood sugar and weight may be the answer to helping patients manage their diabetes and weight more effectively.