World Diabetes Day was launched on Dec 27 at the Penang Hospital by Dr Shafie Ooyub, Director of Disease Control, Ministry of Health.
In his speech, he commented on diabetes as an ominous disease – the Mother of All Diseases.
He also said the ministry was carrying out nation-wide programmes to educate the people on the dangers of this disease.
He apportioned the blame for the spread of the disease on urbanites who are gaining affluence but whose lifestyle choices, such as not paying adequate attention to physical health by not exercising, dietary habits, such as consuming junk food, and also not going for regular medical check-ups.
This is a standard line taken by health bureaucrats as it is an easy way out to blame the individual for these failings. This is only a part of the picture.
It must be remembered the environment plays a huge role in the behaviour of people. If the environment is toxic, people are likely to fall ill.
Why wouldn’t their diets be out of control when they are in an environment teeming with 24-hour food joints, fast-food outlets and hawker stalls?
Let us start by looking at the schools. There are vending machines selling soft drinks with high sugar content. The canteens are full of junk food containing additives and sugar.
Why wouldn’t these students contract diabetes in the future?
Go to a petrol “kiosk”. On sale are not only soft drinks but also food which cannot be considered wholesome.
What would prevent a child accompanying his parents to this place from demanding this sort of food?
There is a whole industry thriving on food which is high in calories, fat and additives. There is no control whatsoever on the manufacture and sale of such food.
What about regulating these manufacturers?
That is not the end of the story. Look at our cities and towns. A drive through these places past midnight will see food outlets bustling with life.
Cars will be parked alongside hawker stalls with their engines idling, and the occupants stretching out their hands to buy take-aways.
In short, the food environment we have created is toxic, so why wouldn’t diabetes be on the rise?
How do we control this?
There is a whole issue of licensing and regulating food outlets and this is within the purview of health officials.
These regulations include:
1. Prohibiting all junk food and vending machines in schools and public places.
2. Fast-food outlets should be regulated so that not only are the numbers of fast-food outlets limited but also that the food sold is wholesome and healthy.
3. Zoning of food outlets by denying or limiting vehicular access. This will have a two-pronged effect – regulating these outlets as well as ensuring that people do some exercise by walking to these outlets, limited though it may be.
4. Regulating the manufacture and sale of food so that they adhere to certain dietary principles.
Rather than suggesting early treatment for diabetes and taking a stereotyped approach in seeking a doctor’s help, it will be far better to prevent the disease.
It must be reminded here that there is no cure for diabetes and seeking early treatment will not make it go away.
The damage from the disease can follow different courses, notwithstanding Western treatment alone.
S.M. MOHAMED IDRIS
Consumers Association of Penang