By Dr. Muhammed Lamin Touray
Diabetes, once considered a rare disease in The Gambia, has now reached alarming levels. The country is facing a surge in diabetes cases, particularly type 2 diabetes, which is largely attributed to unhealthy eating habits. This article delves into the complex relationship between diet and diabetes, exploring the factors contributing to the rise of this chronic disease in The Gambia, and suggests ways to address the issue.
Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder characterized by high blood sugar levels. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1, which is typically diagnosed in childhood and results from the body’s inability to produce insulin, and type 2, which is often linked to lifestyle factors, particularly diet and physical inactivity. The focus of this article is on type 2 diabetes, which is increasingly becoming a public health crisis in The Gambia.
The Surge of Diabetes in The Gambia
Gambia is currently grappling with a diabetes epidemic. The country has witnessed a substantial increase in the prevalence of diabetes over the past few decades. The surge in diabetes cases is a cause for concern, as it not only affects individual health but also places a significant burden on the healthcare system and the overall economy.
According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the prevalence of diabetes in The Gambia has been steadily rising. In 2019, it was estimated that approximately 3.3% of the adult population in The Gambia had diabetes, and the numbers continue to grow.
Several factors contribute to the surge in diabetes cases in The Gambia, with unhealthy eating habits at the forefront. These factors include:
- Dietary Shifts: As The Gambia undergoes urbanization and modernization, there has been a shift from traditional diets, which are often rich in unprocessed and fiber-rich foods, to diets high in processed and sugary foods.
- Increased Sugar Consumption: The consumption of sugary beverages and snacks has risen significantly, contributing to excess sugar intake and weight gain.
iii. Low Physical Activity: Sedentary lifestyles, driven by factors such as increased screen time and reduced physical activity, play a substantial role in the development of type 2 diabetes.
- Genetic Predisposition: Genetic factors also contribute to an individual’s susceptibility to diabetes. A family history of diabetes can increase the risk.
- Obesity: The Gambia, like many countries, is witnessing a rise in obesity rates. Excess body weight is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Unhealthy Eating Habits and Diabetes
The link between unhealthy eating habits and the development of type 2 diabetes is well-established. Unhealthy dietary practices that are prevalent in The Gambia contribute to the surge in diabetes cases:
Excessive Sugar Consumption:
High consumption of sugary foods and beverages can lead to insulin resistance, a key feature of type 2 diabetes.
Low Fiber Intake:
Traditional diets in The Gambia often include fiber-rich foods like whole grains, legumes, and vegetables. Modern diets that lack these elements can increase the risk of diabetes.
The increased consumption of processed foods, often high in unhealthy fats and sugars, contributes to weight gain and insulin resistance.
Lack of Balance:
Diets lacking in a balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) can affect blood sugar regulation.
Cultural and Social Factors:
Cultural practices, such as communal dining and celebratory feasts, can lead to overeating and the consumption of unhealthy foods.
Addressing the Diabetes Epidemic
To combat the surge in diabetes cases in The Gambia, a multi-faceted approach is needed. This approach should involve various stakeholders, including the government, healthcare system, educational institutions, and communities.
- Public Health Campaigns:
Launch public health campaigns to raise awareness about the risks of diabetes and the importance of a healthy diet and active lifestyle.
Implement educational programs in schools, communities, and healthcare facilities to inform individuals about proper nutrition and its role in preventing diabetes.
iii. Access to Healthy Foods:
Promote access to affordable and nutritious foods, particularly in underserved areas. Encourage local production and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Physical Activity:
Encourage physical activity through programs, facilities, and community initiatives.
- Policy Changes:
Implement policies that promote healthy eating, such as taxation on sugary beverages and restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods.
- Healthcare System Support:
Strengthen the healthcare system to provide early detection, management, and support for individuals with diabetes.
The surge in diabetes cases in The Gambia is a critical public health issue that demands urgent attention. Unhealthy eating habits, characterized by the consumption of sugary and processed foods, sedentary lifestyles, and the rise of obesity, are major contributing factors. Addressing this epidemic requires a comprehensive strategy that includes public awareness, education, access to healthy foods, and policy changes. By taking proactive measures, The Gambia can mitigate the impact of diabetes on its population and work towards a healthier future.