Women taking part in a charity walk during World Diabetes Day in Kuala Lumpur. FILE PIC

NOV 14 was World Diabetes Day with the theme, “Women and Diabetes: Our Right To A Healthy Future”.

The prevalence of diabetes has been on the rise over the past decade, making it one of Malaysia’s most critical public health issues, after obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

It is estimated that the number of diabetics in Malaysia has skyrocketed to 3.5 million.

It was reported that one-fifth of adults would have diabetes by 2020, as revealed by the Ma-laysian National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2015.

Many people may ask: are women more susceptible to diabetes even though the disease itself may not gender discriminate?

Globally, there are 199 million women living with diabetes, and this disease is reported to be the ninth leading cause of death in women around the world, causing 2.1 million deaths each year.

A look at the risk factors affecting diabetes reveal why women are more vulnerable to diabetes.

Being overweight and obese are inseparable from diabetes, and research has proven that obesity can increase the risks of developing Type 2 diabetes.

According to a study by The Lancet, a British medical journal, 49 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men in Malaysia are obese.

Even though women and men share similar diabetes complications, what many women may not know is that diabetes could have a more severe impact on women than men.

First, women with diabetes suffer greater cardiovascular risks than men, said the American Heart Association.

Diabetic women have a two-fold increase in risk of coronary heart disease compared with their male counterparts, and nearly four times the risk for coronary heart disease death.

There is evidence showing kidney disease is another complication of diabetes that affects women more than men as diabetic women normally suffer from lower level of estrogen, which is associated with kidney disease.

Additionally, depression is reported twice as common in women, as it is in men, with diabetes.

Research shows that diabetic women are more prone to poor blood sugar control, obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol than men with diabetes.

This year’s World Diabetes Day gives us a chance examine the impact diabetes has on women, but more importantly, to explore how women can tackle diabetes.

Chilean novelist Isabelle Allende said: “If a woman is empowered, her children and her family will be better off.

“If families prosper, the village prospers, and eventually so does the whole country.”

Women are gatekeepers of family health and wellness.

It is important that women take the lead role in advocating a healthier diet and lifestyle, scheduling exercise and health checks to prevent diabetes.

Education is an equally important task.

The National Health and Morbidity Survey reported an upward trend in undiagnosed diabetes mellitus among those above 18, from 4.5 per cent in 2006 to 9.2 per cent in 2015.

Women — as daughter, wife and mother — must empower future generations with the right knowledge and access to healthcare resources to prevent and care for diabetes.

Diabetes cannot be cured, but it can surely be prevented.

Professor Dr Chin Kin Fah, Head of School, School of Medicine, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Taylor’s University

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