Western Fast Food Fuelling Diabetes Boom in SE Asia
Sydney Morning Herald
July 6, 2010

Australian researchers have sounded the alarm over rising rates of diabetes across South-East Asia, linked to an increasingly westernised lifestyle.

The study in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam found 11 per cent of men and 12 per cent of women had developed type 2 diabetes, but they did not know it so the disease went untreated.

This was on top of four per cent of the population diagnosed with the disease triggered by poor diet and obesity, said professors Tuan Nguyen and Lesley Campbell of Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

"Dietary patterns have been changing dramatically in Vietnam in recent years, particularly in the cities as they become more westernised ... there are fast food outlets everywhere," Prof Nguyen said.

"In Asia, diabetes is commonly found among well-off people, who can afford western-style fast food whereas in Australia it's commonly found in socio-economically disadvantaged groups."

Prof Nguyen said the study findings added to a growing pool of research that suggested the disease was now "reaching epidemic proportions around the world".

In particular, he said, the findings in Vietnam echoed the results of a similar investigation in Thailand.

"Because of that, we feel very confident that we can extrapolate our findings to other parts of South-East Asia including Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and Laos," Prof Nguyen said.

"We also believe they are applicable to South-East Asian communities in Australia and around the world."

Type 2 diabetes is caused by a diet high in fat or sugar and a lack of exercise, and without treatment the condition leads to worsening health problems including heart disease, vision loss and lower limb amputation. Ultimately it leads to kidney failure.

About three per cent of Australians have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes while about another three per cent of the population are thought to be undiagnosed.

Australian health officials are tracking a third category - 16 per cent of Australians who have the earliest signs of the disease or "pre-diabetes".

"If you add it up, it makes about 23 per cent of the (Australian) population at risk," Prof Campbell said.

"Who knows what we would find if we went and looked at this in the same way in the Third World.

"Unfortunately, we are watching, in just over a generation, a very rapid increase in diabetes in the Third World nations."

Prof Campbell said a "sad story" was emerging in developing nations, where hunger and poverty co-existed with diseases from the affluent West, but without a western-standard health system.

In a bid to address this, the researchers have also developed a low-tech but accurate diagnostic tool that could be used to identify those likely to have undiagnosed diabetes.

The test requires only a patient's blood pressure to be checked and compared against their hip and waist measurements.

"In developing countries, it's critical that you have screening tests that can be used by workers with only basic training - and that's what this is," Prof Campbell said.

The research is published in the journal Diabetologia.

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