Today, more than 240 million people worldwide live with diabetes. Within the next 20 years, this number is expected to grow to 380 million.
It was on December 26, 2006, that the United Nations General Assembly passed a landmark resolution recognising diabetes as a chronic, debilitating and costly disease. The resolution also said that from 2007 onwards, November 14, which was being observed as the World Diabetes Day, will henceforth be known as the United Nations Day for Diabetes.
If World Diabetes Day 2005 focused on diabetes and foot care, the 2006 campaign slogan of World Diabetes Day was 'Diabetes Care for Everyone', and focused on diabetes in the disadvantaged communities and vulnerable groups.
The theme for 2007 is Diabetes in Children and Adolescents. In fact, the 2007 and 2008 campaigns are planned to send the message that 'no child should die of diabetes'.
Diabetes in Children and Adolescents International Diabetes Federation reports that 70,000 children develop Type 1 diabetes every year (Type 1 diabetes is usually found in children and young adults. This was previously described as juvenile diabetes. In this case, the body does not produce insulin, the hormone that is needed to convert sugar (glucose), starches and other food into energy needed for daily life). This works out to 200 new cases every day, Around 4,40,000 children worldwide under the age of 14 now live with the disease and they require insulin injections throughout their lives.
Of the estimated 440,000 cases of Type 1 diabetes in children worldwide, more than a quarter live in South-East Asia, and more than a fifth in Europe.
Adding to this is the occurrence of Type 2 Diabetes (a condition where either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin) in children in alarming proportions. Type 2 Diabetes usually occurs in older people and is preventable to a large extent by proper life style.
Type 1 diabetes is growing by 3 per cent a year in children and adolescents, and at an alarming 5 per cent per year among pre-school children.
"Diabetes poses more problems in children than in adults as it is more difficult to implement frequent blood glucose testing, take medication and balance both activity and food intake in children. This poses a great challenge to both parents and children. Moreover, children with diabetes can develop complications like kidney failure at a young age," says Dr Vijay Viswanathan, managing director of MV Diabetic Hospital for Diabetes, Chennai.
According to the World Diabetes Day web site, diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood. It can strike children of any age, including pre-school children and even toddlers. Yet diabetes in children is often diagnosed late.
In many parts of the world, insulin is not available and if available, it remains inaccessible because of economy, geography or constraints on supply. As a result, many children die of diabetes, particularly in low and middle-income countries.
It is also reported that about 20 per cent of Indian children are overweight or obese and the number of Type 2 Diabetes is soaring among children and adolescents in India.
Dr Viswanathan says obesity is the major factor for the development of Type 2 Diabetes in children. "Obese children develop either frank diabetes or a good number develop impaired glucose tolerance which is a pre-diabetic condition."
If processed food is said to be the main reason behind obesity in Western countries, in India, it is the "rapidly changing food habits like sugary drinks and high calorie snacks" that is the reason. Children today are less physically active due to the influence of computer games and television.
A study conducted in the US found that reduction in the use of television and video games from 12 to eight hours a week helped reduce the body mass of many children.
Similarly the 'trim and fit' programme in Singapore also was successful. Under the programme, schools installed water coolers and encouraged children to drink water instead of high calorie aerated drinks. The result was extremely positive.
Dr Viswanathan asserts that similar measures are needed in India also.
To fight obesity and diabetes, children should eat more fruits and vegetables and low calorie snacks, substitute water for sweetened beverages, increase their physical activity and cut down on the time spent in front of computers and television sets.
The MV Hospital for Diabetes, the WHO Collaborating Centre for Diabetes India released for the first time in India, a manual on the prevention of childhood obesity and diabetes, on Sunday. The book was written by the Diet Education, Diabetes and psycho-social counselling, Epideminology departments of the hospital.
The WHO collaborating centre plans to distribute the book to many schools all over India. On the 11th, 4500 books were handed over to the government of Tamil Nadu to be distributed to all the higher secondary schools in the state.
When 20 per cent Indian children are overweight, the time has come for parents, children and authorities to act!