Diabetes and South Asians
“People with South Asian roots are up to six times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to their white European counterparts.”
This is a widely cited statistic when discussing health inequalities amongst BAMER communities in the UK. It is an alarming figure: and many studies have been looking into why this is the case.
A study conducted by researchers at Glasgow University suggested that this disparity was because ‘people from the (South Asian) region have muscles which do not burn fat as well as Europeans’. As around 80% of people are overweight or obese at the time of diagnosis this argument seems to have some merit, but as this disparity is quite significant this one factor can’t fully account for the high numbers of diabetics within the South Asian community. Other studies conducted by the South Asian Health Foundation and Diabetes UK found diet/nutrition, physical activity, smoking, socio-economic status, language barrier, education, access to diabetes care, attitudes to medical care as possible contributing factors. It is important to bear in mind that a holistic approach is always necessary when looking at causes of health problems: a whole host of factors are usually present before the onset of problems.
A 2006 study by Diabetes UK titled ‘Diabetes and the Disadvantaged’ examined the relationship between health problems, socio economic deprivation and race. This study also found socio economic deprivation, language, communication and literacy, and access to services as important factors. In addition the report highlighted how discrimination and racism, cultural and religious influences on behaviour (including physical activity and food choices), the role and status of women can all have a negative effect on people living with the disease, and the likelihood of developing the condition.
A simple Google search demonstrates the wealth of information available about diabetes. Important work is being carried out around this issue and while Diabetes in England is predicted to increase by 47 per cent by 2025 this issue will continue to be the focus of future research, which will have a significant impact on the South Asian community.
But what is the purpose of all this research if the information generated is not being effectively disseminated to the affected community. Surely, these analyses are done in vain unless it can help diabetics improve their lifestyle, or detect the condition earlier, or even prevent people from becoming diabetic in the first place.
Communication, language barriers, and access to services have been listed as important factors when discussing the alarming number of diabetics in the South Asian community. Statistics show that Diabetes is not only more prevalent in the South Asian community but they also tend to have poorer outcomes. For some English may not be their first language, or they have problems reading so they aren’t able to make use of the materials available out there, or understand the information they are given. Consequently they are more likely to face problems in actually accessing the adequate care or detecting that they have the disease.
Taking into account that up to a million people are estimated to be unaware they have the condition, more needs to be done to raise awareness of the issue. This is something we do at JAN Trust. We have held a number of health workshops and programmes to educate women on issues like diabetes and healthy cooking; we also run a number of exercise classes which is part of our overall effort to promote a healthier lifestyle. There needs to be more involvement from voluntary and statutory organisations in relaying vital health information to their users, using their specialised knowledge of the community, and language skills. To facilitate this sufficient funding needs to be available, ensuring organisations, such as JAN Trust, who possess this knowledge and experience can carry out awareness raising and preventative work within the affected community. We have a long waiting list of women interested in our health projects but due to financial restrictions we are not able to support as many of them as we would like to. The voluntary sector is suffering more and more cuts since the economic downturn but we need to make sure that the government, funders, and wider society are aware that on a long-term basis, awareness raising and preventative work not only saves lives but also makes more financial sense. Spread the word! Grass-roots organisations will play a vital role in combating the impact of Diabetes in the South Asian community. If you, or anybody you know, would like to support our work please go to http://localgiving.com/charity/jantrust. Thank you.