Health x Wellness

Positive mindset and behavioral change important for diabetes patients

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According to the IDF Diabetes Atlas, diabetes has caused nearly 6.7 million deaths in 2021. As a lifestyle disorder and despite growing awareness, there are 239 million people who have undiagnosed diabetes globally.

There is also a proportional link between obesity and diabetes rates leading to the crucial focus to reduce obesity rates in our fight against diabetes deaths. 

Diabesity” is a more uncommonly addressed affliction plaguing Southeast Asia. This condition describes obesity triggered diabetes due to a general insulin resistance caused by high blood sugar levels and sedentary lifestyles.

However, the rising trend towards surging diabesity rates can certainly be reversed with more nutritional and health awareness. For example, those in the prediabetes stage can actually prevent progressing a diabetes diagnosis if they watch their food portions, eat more fiber to prevent spikes in blood sugar or even quit smoking which can cause insulin resistance.

As part of its Nutrition Dialogue Series, Herbalife Nutrition has been sharing about public nutrition education, to bridge the nutrition knowledge gaps among consumers in Asia Pacific.

We discuss diabesity, lifestyle changes, mindset and silver bullets with Dr. Alex Teo, Director, Research & Development and Scientific Affairs – Asia Pacific, Herbalife Nutrition

the Active Age (AA): What is diabesity and why is it a growing concern in Asia Pacific?

Dr. Alex Teo (AT): Diabesity is a convenient way of describing and discussing type 2 diabetes in the context of obesity. These two afflictions seem to converge and intersect more and more, popping up in our own households and communities, among family and friends who have long struggled with their weight.

Most individuals with type 2 diabetes – roughly 80 percent – are considered obese, highlighting the strong association between diabetes and obesity.

In spite of a growing awareness around this lifestyle disorder, there are 240 million people who have undiagnosed diabetes globally. In Southeast Asia, one in 11 adults are living with diabetes, while in Singapore, one in three are projected to have diabetes in their lifetime, with expectations of Singaporeans with diabetes to rise to one million by 2050.

Obesity prevalence is on the rise too. One in five adults are overweight in Southeast Asia, as well as an estimated 6.6 million young children under five years, according to the World Health Organization.

AA: Who is more susceptible to diabesity and what is the impact of a diabesity epidemic?

AT: As people in Asia Pacific achieve better economic status, they tend to live more stressful and sedentary lifestyles. This means less time for physical activities and a tendency for food high in sugar, salt, saturated fats, and chemical preservatives.  

Asians are particularly at risk due to carrying higher percentages of fat in the abdominal region, which increases insulin resistance. In previous studies, imaging technology discovered that despite having a healthy BMI, Asians have more fat around organs and in the belly area than Europeans with the same BMI.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

In addition, some people can appear to be of normal weight, and yet be carrying excess body fat. This is sometimes referred to as “TOFI” – thin on the outside and fat on the inside. This is especially common among Asians, South Asians, fashion models, and women who eat too little protein and remain sedentary.

All told, the impact of a diabesity epidemic is substantial, causing health problems long-range diabetic complications, reduction in heart-related functioning, lower quality of life, decreased life expectancy and greater frequency of strokes.

AA: How can nutrition and a healthy lifestyle help in lowering the risks of diabesity?  

AT: The battle against diabesity and the risk of diabesity includes early detection, screening, prevention, health management, and personal behavior.

Yearly health screenings can help check if one has an underlying health complication and health checks apply to younger people as well, who may live with the misnomer that they are unsusceptible to diabetes due to their age. 

From a prevention standpoint, the answer is pretty simple: eat better and exercise more. Here are some basic principles to combat diabesity:

  • Make fruits and vegetables mandatory in your diet, as they can reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease
  • Avoid soft drinks that are obscenely high in sugar
  • Avoid packaged foods that are chock-full of salt, saturated fats, and chemical preservatives
  • Incorporate a nice balance of fish, lean meats, and soy protein
  • Make fiber a daily part of your diet
Photo by Sam Moqadam on Unsplash

Keeping fit through exercise is another aspect which can reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends moderate physical activity of at least 2.5 to 5 hours a week for substantial health benefits. Saris et al recommended at least 5 to 7 hours a week of moderate physical activity is necessary to prevent the transition of normal weight to overweight or overweight to obese. Exercise should include both cardiovascular activities and resistance training that target major muscle groups.

Furthermore, in the case that you are one of the 537 million with diabetes, joining a community that discusses how to live with diabetes and still stay healthy would certainly be emotionally and physically beneficial.

AA: What type of mindset can people living with diabesity hold when coping with the condition?

AT: While diet and exercise are still important factors, adopting a positive mindset and behavioral change strategies are important for patients with diabetes to continue living a healthy life. Being diagnosed with diabetes, whatever the type, often comes as a shock to many who may also feel overwhelmed with the new life adjustments that come along with it. In these cases, having familial or social support groups are an important aspect in a patient’s life.

Photo by Muhamad Iqbal Akbar on Unsplash

A study conducted in Diabetic Medicine highlighted that beyond the benefits of the usual education, peer support was effective in reducing diabetes distress for Type 2 diabetes mellitus after participants received monthly peer support by leaders and peer-to-peer communication.

AA: Can nutrition be regarded as a silver bullet in terms of helping people with diabesity live a fuller life?

AT: Health is holistic, and balanced nutrition is only part of the equation for a healthier life. A consistent exercise regimen and a supportive community are also essential to prevent and reduce diabesity, and help people living with this condition.

As a global nutrition company, we educate consumers about the importance of nutrient density, which is a measure of how much nutrition you get per calorie eaten. When choosing between two food items with the same calorie amount, one food choice can provide your body with the protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals we need every day, while another choice may provide empty calories from sugar and fat with no significant nutrients.

AA: What are some final key takeaways for consumers?

AT: Ultimately, it is impossible for consumers to adopt a “pick-and-choose” mentality towards physical fitness and nutrition. The latter needs to be approached holistically through a combination of balanced diets, mindful eating, regular exercise, and self-monitoring.  This will not only ensure a prevention of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity, but also allow for greater overall well-being of consumers.

In a Herbalife Nutrition survey, most consumers in Asia Pacific said they lacked nutrition knowledge and saw healthcare professionals (HCPs) and nutrition companies as the most useful sources of accurate nutrition information. To help close these nutrition knowledge gaps, Herbalife Nutrition has been intensifying its collaboration initiatives with healthcare practitioners through a series of multi-platform, public nutrition education and healthy lifestyle activities such as the Herbalife Nutrition Asia Pacific Wellness Tours, Herbalife Nutrition Dialogue Series and Herbalife Nutrition Virtual Run.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash