Experts have raised the alarm over the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in young Nigerians,

The burden of Type 2 diabetes is rising in the country. At present, statistics gleaned from the International Diabetes Federation about the prevalence of the disease in Nigeria is nothing to celebrate. According to the federation, the country has the highest number of people with diabetes in Africa.

In fact, only last year, the IDF estimated that no fewer than six million Nigerians have been diagnosed with the condition. According to the IDF, a person dies of diabetes every six minutes and most of these deaths are in developing countries, such as Nigeria.

Diabetes care medics, who spoke with our correspondent ahead of the World Diabetes Day on November 14, noted that more Nigerians in their 20s and 30s were diagnosed with high blood sugar, a condition that leads to Type 2 diabetes.

According to them, the non-communicable disease, hitherto associated with those above 50s years of age, is now rampant among younger people due to increased consumption of unhealthy foods.

The medics noted that regular consumption of staple foods, such as white bread, noodles; white rice and oils fuel the development of Type 2 diabetes.

For instance, Consultant Endocrinologist, Dr. Oluwatayo Ogundele, stated that white bread, one of the most popular breakfast food loved by Nigerians, topped the list of unhealthy foods in the world.

Oluwatoyo explained that flour-based foods such as white bread contain refined sugars and other processed products that increase blood glucose concentration, a pre-condition for the disease.

According to the diabetes specialist, many children and adults residing in urban areas of the country have 60 per cent increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in their 30s unlike their counterparts raised in rural areas. The medic linked this development to the kind of diet that they eat.

He stated, “White bread, the type that is sold on many of the streets in Lagos, Abuja, and other cities has now become a problem for Nigerians due to its link to diabetes. While we were growing up, many of us did not eat bread for months. In fact, in our time, it was a luxury to eat bread.

“But now, the children of the poor and rich eat bread for breakfast almost every day. Parents give their kids bread and butter to school for lunch. In fact, bread is on many school menus. They take it to school because their parents do not have time to prepare their food. Though this is convenient, it is dangerous. White bread and other products are from refined white flour that contains large portions of bad carbohydrates.

“The sugar in a half of a loaf of white bread valued at N100 is worse than the one in soft drinks because flour is a complex carbohydrate and sugar. When bread is digested, a lot of sugar is released into the bloodstream, high blood glucose sets in, and this eventually leads to diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a rapidly spreading disease brought upon us by our dietary habit.”

Beyond Ogundele’s observations, other experts agree that diabetes is thriving in the urban areas. Using hospital-based statistics, the Lagos State Ministry of Health in 2011 revealed that diabetes prevalence in the cosmopolitan city is up to six per cent.

Aside from Lagos, the diabetes prevalence in some oil rich cities in the Niger Delta is reportedly put at as high as 23.4 per cent.

Another Consultant Endocrinologist, Dr. Afoke Isiavwe, stated that frequent consumption of some staple Nigerian foods, such as white rice, white bread, puff puff, chin-chin and other processed convenience foods readily available in urban areas contribute to this disease.

Isiavwe also stated what individuals eat for breakfast could either lower or increase their risk of developing the diet-related disease.

She said, “Foods, such as white rice and white bread have a high glycemic index. Foods with high GI tend to cause a big increase in your blood sugar after consuming them. High GI foods may increase diabetes risk by causing weight gain, which in turn increases one’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. So if you love your bread for breakfast, whole -grain bread is a preferred and healthier option to white bread.”

She, however, noted that this did not mean that people should skip breakfast, as this could predispose them to diabetes too.

Isiavwe stated, “Studies have shown that skipping breakfast makes people eat more frequently during the day which leads to weight gain, one of the main risk factors for diabetes.

“It is has also been shown that those who are overweight and obese now account for 80 per cent of the new cases of Type 2 diabetes. Eating breakfast helps adults and children to control their appetite and blood glucose concentration.”

On the link between diets and diabetes, professor of medicine at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Ifeoma Okoye, blamed parents who give their kids unhealthy foods for the increasing prevalence of the disease in the country.

Okoye said foods such as instant noodles, pasta, spaghetti, which many parents served their children, were from processed and refined flour, food sources that spike their blood glucose levels and increase their weight conditions. According to her, this can as well result in Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Okoye said, “Parents are not feeding their children well with the kind of foods they give them. For example, the noodles and other forms of pasta that children and even some adults eat these days are from bleached and processed flour. Now, bleached flour has many sugars and calories that are too much for children to use up or process.

“These excess calories are stored up in the body as fats while others go directly into the blood stream. Over time, they become overweight and obese. This is a number one risk factor for diabetes. Most parents grew up eating vegetables and home cooked meals that were nutritious. They should learn not to give their children foods that could cause harm in the future.”

Besides, medics warn that if this trend is not checked, more Nigerians would develop kidney failure or suffer deformities due to leg amputations.

According to Isiavwe, who is also the Chief Medical Director, Rainbow Specialist Hospital, Lekki, Lagos, statistics showed that 50 per cent of the leg amputations performed in a tertiary hospital in Lagos were on patients who had foot ulcers and injuries that could not heal because of diabetes.

To prevent such, the specialist advised Nigerians to embrace prevention by replacing unhealthy foods in their diet with healthy ones.

For instance, she noted that cooking with olive or sunflower oils instead of palm oil laced with saturated fats would reduce one’s risk of diabetes.

She said, “We have healthy foods in Nigeria, such as Efirin, Ugu, bitter leaf, water leaf, Shoko, Tete. We should eat at least three servings of these foods a day. We can eat fish instead of red meat. Brown rice is also better than white rice.

“We should also cook with small amounts of oil instead of palm oil which has saturated fats. Finally, drink water instead of beverages that have sugar.”

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