Page last updated at 10:11 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Asian diabetes 'time-bomb' feared

Rajan Gujral (Picture: Bhasker Solanki)
Rajan Gujral appears in the film Sweet Talk

UK-based South Asians face a health "time-bomb" in the next 30 years due to the prevalence of diabetes within the community.

This stark warning is just one of the remarks made by campaigners behind a film aimed at raising awareness about the disease.

People from South Asia are six times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than the white members of the UK population, and they are likely to develop it ten years earlier.

It is feared that widespread ignorance about the disease threatens the lives of tens of thousands in the UK.

But the team behind a Bollywood-style comedy hope they can educate people and save lives while making people laugh.

Sweet Talk, which can be seen at religious and community centres, as well as on cable channels, is about 55-year-old Bobby. He eats excessively and takes no exercise.

There are 246m cases worldwide
By 2025, some 380m global cases expected
Diabetes caused 3.8m deaths worldwide in 2007

The 15-minute film follows his experiences after his sister, who has diabetes, suffers a heart attack, prompting the realisation that he is at risk and must take action.

Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce or use enough insulin.

Serious complications

The chronic disease leads to high blood sugar which, over time, can cause blindness, stroke, amputation, kidney failure and heart disease.

There is currently no cure for the disease. Treatment involves lowering blood glucose and other risk factors that damage that damage blood vessels. For example, giving up alcohol may help to avoid complications.

Type 2 diabetes tends to be associated with age, obesity, inactive lifestyle and genetic factors.

Indian sweets (Picture: Bhasker Solanki)
Indian sweets can be high in calories

Dr Rumeena Gujral, of the South Asian Health Foundation (SAHF), is behind the film.

She pointed to research which shows that South Asians have a 50% risk of developing diabetes at some point in their life, and that one in four people from the community aged over 25 is a sufferer.

Dr Gujral said she found the figures "shocking".

She attributed the problem to a lack of exercise amongst members of the community, as well as a diet which is high in fat.

South Asians based in the UK are particularly vulnerable when they move from a simple diet on the subcontinent to a rich Western one, along with a more sedentary lifestyle.

And the phenomenon is not restricted to people based in the UK.

Global problem

Professor Anushka Patel, a cardiologist from Sydney, said: "We're seeing very high rates of South Asians with diabetes around the world."

"There has to be a greater awareness of how great a problem diabetes is.

Her sentiments were echoed by Dr Wasim Hanif, who chairs the SAHF's diabetes working group and is a consultant physician in Birmingham.

Curry (Picture: Bhasker Solanki)
Curry can also be highly calorific

He said about 30% of patients receiving dialysis in Birmingham are from the community.

"The way to tackle this issue is to raise awareness in the South Asian community so that they're aware diabetes is a big problem," said Dr Hanif, who added that early treatment and diagnosis were the key to addressing the issue effectively.

When asked why there is a need to focus specifically on the health needs of a particular community within the UK's population, he insisted that the problem has ramifications which affect others in the UK.

"We are sitting on a time-bomb. We need to tackle it now and tackle it aggressively because if we don't in 20 or 30 years the same people will have heart disease, kidney failure at huge cost to the NHS."

He stressed that it would make "economic sense" to act now and reduce the future "burden" on the UK's health system.

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