Two recent independent studies have shown that awareness about diabetes is pretty high in Chennai, but knowledge on prevention and obesity was lacking.

While one of the studies showed that, in contrast to other urban centres in India, a majority of respondents in Chennai (64 per cent) think there is a high (50-75 per cent) possibility of an average Indian to be affected by diabetes. They are also aware of the role of insulin. The study commissioned by Novo Nordisk, the healthcare company, that also deals with diabetes medication, however also mentions that awareness on HBa1C as a diagnostic tool is low in the city.

Another recent survey conducted among 1,266 school (CBSE Board) children in the 8 to 16 age group said lack of knowledge on obesity was explicit and implicit in the fact that they hardly had any physical activity during the day. The survey was conducted as part of the Chennai Slim and Fit programme of M.V.Hospital for Diabetes and Diabetes Research Centre.

In an article published in the journal of the Tamil Nadu Association of Physicians of India, the authors Shabana Tharkar and Vijay Viswanathan make a case that it is for the first time that that awareness levels of obesity and diabetes, the co-relation with lifestyle habits were being assessed among children and adolescents. “The study showed that knowledge about obesity and its effects is inadequate among children in the city. While there were differences in the different age and economic groups, with the older students who go to private schools being better informed than younger kids or those who went to public schools, this study shows that enough is not being done,” Dr. Viswanathan says.

Only 32 per cent of the children even knew what obesity was; and though 63.1 per cent of the group was aware of diabetes, only 34.8 per cent knew it could be prevented. The children had poor knowledge about a balanced, healthy diet in general, while those in the higher income groups had a little more information about the ill effects of junk foods.

“We need to focus attention on the persistence of unhealthy habits among the children, and not only improve awareness but also motivate them to practice a healthy lifestyle, Dr. Viswanathan adds. Changing lifestyles and eating habits are causing obesity in children and scientifically, excess body fat in children is the cause for many clinical and biochemical abnormalities. For instance, insulin resistance, abnormal lipid levels and high blood pressure – all of which act as a trigger for development of Type 2 Diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adulthood, the study states.

In fact, the intervention process has already begun as an offshoot of the survey itself. Overweight and obese children in three schools were selected and in consultation with the parents and teachers were counselled on lifestyle modification over a one and a half year period. While the results from this are being compiled, it is already obvious that these interventions have been successful in great measure, Dr. Tharkar explains. “It is truly an incentive to start early and get the younger generation healthy, especially it is easier to do it then.”