The study is the first large-scale investigation into diabetes risk among children and young people in South Asia, and provides further evidence that the region is rapidly becoming a hotspot in the growing international diabetes epidemic.
The study, published in the journal PLoS One, is part of a research programme aiming to develop methods to prevent diabetes in young people in Sri Lanka, as the disease is now having a major public health impact. In Sri Lanka, studies have shown that one in five adults has either diabetes or pre-diabetes, but until now no research has been carried out into risk-factors among young people.
The scientists suggest that urgent action is now required to raise awareness of diabetes and obesity in developing countries and encourage young people to make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk.
The DIABRISK-SL project is an international collaboration between scientists in the UK, led by Dr Janaka Karalliedde from the Cardiovascular Division in the School of Medicine at King’s, and Dr Mahen Wijesuriya in Sri Lanka.
The survey revealed that 23 per cent of their sample group had two or more risk factors for diabetes, with two or more risk factors found in 24 per cent of children aged 10-14. Raised BMI was found in nearly 20 per cent of children aged 10-14, and 15 per cent of children aged 15-19. The results also showed that physical inactivity was a lot higher among females in all age groups, with overall inactivity rising in both sexes with age.
Dr Karalliedde commented: ‘What we have found in this report really confirms that South Asia is becoming the centre of a worldwide diabetes epidemic. We were expecting the levels of risk factors to be high, but we were still surprised at just how high they were. The fact that we found such a high prevalence in children has not been shown Sri Lanka before, or anywhere else in South Asia, and is of great concern.
‘This dramatic rise is clearly linked to a decline in physical activity and mirrors global trends of rising childhood obesity. Being overweight in childhood means people are much more likely to become obese as adults and will have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Now that we know how widespread the problem is, we can take steps towards identifying high risk groups to evolving preventive strategies.’
Dr Mahen Wijesuriya of the National Diabetes Centre added: ‘These data highlight the need for early intervention in younger people in Sri Lanka. A primary prevention intervention trial is now underway to evaluate the effects of intensive lifestyle intervention on improving diet and exercise.’
Professor Jean Claude Mbanya, President of the International Diabetes Federation, said: ‘These figures reflect the disturbing rise in risk factors for type 2 diabetes among young people being seen worldwide. This is an example of good-quality scientific research that will bring solutions to the global epidemic of diabetes and other chronic non-communicable disease.
‘We hope that the DIABRISK-SL project in Sri Lanka will lead to effective and cost-effective interventions that work in the real world. This is a golden opportunity to make a very deep and very positive long-term impact on individuals, families and entire communities in Sri Lanka.’
For more details contact Katherine Barnes on 0207 848 3076 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please visit the National Diabetes Centre (Sri Lanka) website for more information.