Page last updated at 10:01 GMT, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Diabetes danger of South Asian youngsters

By Divya Talwar
BBC Asian Network

Professor Kamlesh Khunti, a Professor of Primary Care Diabetes at the University of Leicester
Professor Kamlesh Khunti wants South Asians to guard against diabetes

Experts are warning of a worrying trend in the rise of children, particularly South Asians, developing type 2 diabetes at an earlier age than their previous generations.

Type 2 diabetes is typically found in adults and is largely caused by obesity but teenagers and children as young as 10 are now being diagnosed with it.

Professor Kamlesh Khunti, a Professor of Primary Care Diabetes at the University of Leicester and a GP, said: "Type 2 diabetes was not something that teenagers and children would get.

''It was something that adults in their 30s and 40s would be diagnosed with.

''But now children, particularly from the South Asian population, are getting type 2 diabetes at a younger and younger age.

''This is a shocking trend that is a time-bomb waiting to explode."

People with type 2 diabetes, also known as non-insulin dependent diabetes, do not make enough insulin or cannot make proper use of it.

At first, when my doctor told me I laughed because I thought it was a joke
Type 2 diabetes sufferer Tipu, 17

Unlike type 2, type 1 is more common among children and is not linked to obesity.

Dr Khunti estimates that hundreds of people under the age of 30 have type 2 diabetes.

''What we are seeing in South Asian children is down to a combination of genes, poor diet and lifestyle,'' he explained.

Lifestyle

Tipu Alom, from East London, was just 17 when he found out that he was a type 2 diabetic.

''At first, when my doctor told me I laughed because I thought it was a joke,'' he said.

Like many teenagers, Tipu's daily diet regularly consisted of fizzy drinks, junk food and greasy takeouts combined with very little physical activity.

However, he didn't think that his lifestyle would cause him any problems at his age.

''I was really shocked when I found out I had type 2 diabetes. I thought I was too young to get it - I'm only a teenager,'' said Tipu.

''If I could rewind time then I would have taken my health more seriously and maybe I wouldn't have gotten diabetes.

''Now it's too late and I have live with it for the rest of my life."

Ten years ago, cases like Tipu's were a rarity and Dr Sarah Frankton, a consultant physician in diabetes at the Royal London Hospital, has also voiced her concerns.

Often young people do not see the deadly effects of the condition immediately, so they think that they can get away with ignoring the treatment we give them
Dr Sarah Frankton

''The scale of the problem is likely to be much worse than what we are seeing," she said.

''Many young children and teenagers might be living with type 2 diabetes for a number of years before it even gets diagnosed.

''The symptoms may not be very obvious - you might just feel slightly more tired than usual or slightly more thirsty.

''But if your sugars are not dreadfully high you could be getting gradually worse and worse over a number of years before you get diagnosed.''

Dr Frankton said that the longer the condition goes untreated, the greater the risk of developing serious problems later in life, such as cardiovascular diseases, blindness and even impotence.

Tipu's diabetes was spotted when he moved to a new GP.

Embarrassing

''I was just having a couple of standards tests because I was a new patient and that's when I found out that I had diabetes. Otherwise, I would not have had a clue,'' he said.

''I find it really tough because I have had to change so many things in my life.

''I can't do many of the things that my friends can do without even thinking - like grabbing a take-out after college.

''I know it's my own fault. I haven't even told any of my friends about it because one of them has type 1 diabetes and I find it really embarrassing that I have type 2 at my age.''

South Asians must improve their diets and the amount of physical activity they do
Professor Kamlesh Khunti

Dr Frankton says a serious problem with developing type 2 diabetes at an early age is that many young people fail to take the condition seriously.

''Some don't even take the medication we give them, or make any changes in their lifestyles," Dr Frankton said.

''Often young people do not see the deadly effects of the condition immediately, so they think that they can get away with ignoring the treatment we give them.''

Tipu may have made many changes in his lifestyle, but he epitomises the lack of discipline Dr Frankton believes younger sufferers can have when it comes to medication.

''Most of the time I feel fine, so I don't think it's a problem if I don't take my medicines every single day,'' said Tipu.

''Sometimes I also just forget to take them."

Professor Khunti now wants the growing problem addressed by South Asians.

''South Asians must improve their diets and the amount of physical activity they do," he concluded.

''Otherwise, this is a problem that will get worse and will eventually explode.''



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