Press Release
November 24, 2007

A national health crisis in the making

Do you make frequent trips to the bathroom? Are you always thirsty? Do you lose weight without trying? Do you often feel weak and exhausted? Do you have tingling or numbness in your hands, legs or feet? Do you sometimes have blurred vision?

If you have answered yes to many of these questions, chances are you are at risk for one of the fastest-growing chronic diseases in Asia and the rest of the world. In fact, the signs mentioned above are already part of the later, more extreme symptoms of the disease.

Diabetes is a serious disease - serious because of its harmful effects and because half the people who have it don't even know it.

In Asia, about 89 million people are diabetic. Almost three million deaths per year worldwide are attributed to diabetes. The World Health Organization (WHO) expects the disease to increase by more than 50 percent in the next ten years.

The threat of diabetes to Filipinos is equally disturbing. Globally, the Philippines ranks 10th among countries with the highest diabetes incidence. An estimated number of six million Filipinos know they have diabetes, and another six million is estimated to have the disease but are not aware they have it. By 2010, there would be about 15 million diabetics in the country unless the disease is not curbed.

It is therefore shocking that while diabetes is the 9th leading cause of death in the Philippines, diabetes awareness is very low among the public.

But why has diabetes become so common?

Rising rates of obesity and physical inactivity have caused more people to develop diabetes. Also, diabetes is now increasingly affecting even the younger generations, with cases of diabetes in pre-teens and teens surging due to lifestyle reasons, mainly the lack of physical activity and increased periods spent in front of the television, computer or playing video games . Diabetes is more rampant today than it was ten to 20 years ago.

Profile of a diabetic

There is an alarming number of people worldwide who are either overweight or obese - both adults and children. In 2005, 1.6 billion adults and over 20 million children under the age of 5 were overweight. Worse, this number is expected to skyrocket to 2.3 billion overweight and more than 700 million obese adults in less than ten years.

In the country, three out of 4 children aged 0-10 years, and 4 to 6 out of 100 adolescents are overweight. Of course, the problem with overweight and obesity is that it leads to serious problems such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, gout, sleep apnea and asthma.

People who suffer from diabetes either have an insensitivity to the body's insulin or are unable to produce enough insulin. When normal people eat, the body breaks the food down into a sugar called glucose. Insulin helps glucose get into the body's cells, where it is used as energy. When the body is insensitive to or not producing enough insulin, glucose cannot get into the cells. Eventually, it builds up in the bloodstream, where it can, over time, damage the heart, kidneys, eyes, blood vessels and nerves.

A bit of good news though. Diabetes, while not curable, can be treated. With early diagnosis, many of its complications can be avoided.

Knowing is half the battle

Being a complicated disease, diabetes could only be effectively addressed with proper education regarding the right diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Education targets diabetes twofold. First, diabetes awareness among the public may help Filipinos be more conscious of their diet and lifestyle, and consequently help them avoid acquiring the disease. Second, proper education on how to manage the disease may also help diabetics live to the fullest, and help them avoid its painful complications.

An endocrinologists' organization, with the support of a government leader-slash-health advocate has taken the initiative of promoting the power of prevention through fitness and nutrition

Recently, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) - Philippine Chapter, in cooperation with school officials, launched Power of Prevention through Fitness and Nutrition.

Power of Prevention through Fitness and Nutrition is a project that aims to curb the obesity epidemic through awareness campaigns at elementary PE classes in an initial 25 participating schools around Metro Manila and nearby provinces. The program teaches 6th grade children of the importance of proper nutrition and regular exercise through a 5-day module to be included in their PE classes. Students who are found to have made significant improvements will be awarded at the end of the term.

During the launching of the program, keynote speaker Senator Edgardo J. Angara pledged an amount of P500,000 yearly for the next five years to be used solely for the education of the public on diabetes and ways to prevent it.

AACE is an advocacy association of clinical endocrinologists, with the Philippine chapter being the first in Southeast Asia. It president Dr. George B. Tan trained at the Makati Medical Center under the tutelage of Dr. Augusto D. Litonjua, considered the father of Philippine endocrinology.

When it was founded in 2006, AACE also received half a million pesos seed funding from Angara. In recognition of Angara 's support and advocacy, AACE named the student awards for Power of Prevention through Fitness and Nutrition the Senator Edgardo Angara Active Lifestyle Award (SEAALA).

"There is a serious public health menace that is silently killing Filipino children," said Angara, "and there is an urgent need to wage an aggressive information and awareness campaign against it." Angara who chairs the health budget in the Senate, also said he will allocate additional public money towards more information and awareness efforts as well as research and development (R&D) to fight this looming epidemic.

The fight against diabetes should be fought by government's executive arm, with solid legislative support, and with various non government organizations.

Of course, the real battle happens within oneself. Ultimately, it is the person who will decide for himself if he or she wants to lose weight, do exercise, and watch his diet.

Apparently, there are reasons to do it beyond personal. Looking at the bigger picture, Angara explains, "healthy Filipinos live more productively, and contribute more to the development of our country."

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