Diabetics married to discord
India has 35 million diabetics and is referred to as the diabetes capital of the world but little has been done to tackle the social fallout of the disease. Stigma and misconceptions persist. A survey in Delhi shows that diabetics still find it difficult to be accepted as a life partner. Neeta Lal reports
What do actor Kamalahasan, cricketer Wasim Akram and VJ Gaurav Kapoor have in common? Well, all four have Type I diabetes. Type I diabetes is caused by the destruction of beta cells in the pancreas, which produces insulin. This is different from Type II diabetes, which is linked to a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits. Incidentally, 90 per cent of the world’s diabetics are the Type II variety.
While diabetes is a common ailment, afflicting as many as 35 million people in India alone, the social fallout is perhaps the least discussed aspect of the disease. Yet, for a majority of those who suffer from Type I diabetes, it is a reality they have to face in their daily lives.
A recent survey on marriage-related problems among diabetics — carried out by the Delhi Diabetes Research Centre (DDRC) among 2,000 people in age group 19 to 31 — revealed that finding a suitable life partner is among the most common concerns for a diabetic. Not only does the Type I diabetic patient find it difficult to be accepted as a life partner but more than 90 per cent of those who were married faced problems in their marital life. Confrontation, separation and divorce were common among them.
The survey revealed that of the married women who were Type I diabetic, nearly 50 per cent were sent back to their parental home within a year of marriage. Nearly, 25 per cent of the diabetic married women surveyed lost interest in taking care of themselves, much less monitoring the disease. This happened mainly because the financial assistance to do so was not forthcoming at her husband’s home. Death due to health-related complications was also not unknown.
Stigma and misconceptions persist. According to Dr A. K. Jhingan, Chairperson, DDRC, there is a fear that diabetes-affected persons cannot have normal and healthy children. In fact, more often than not, diabetic men chose to remain silent about their disease before entering matrimony.
Jhingan says what was most worrisome was the lack of sufficient knowledge about the disease. “The social implications of diabetes for the Indian subcontinent need special attention because of the region’s prevalent culture of arranged marriages where families do not enquire about the prospective bride or groom’s genetic history. This is compounded by a lack of awareness on diabetes,” he says. The problem — which is especially acute in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh — can only be addressed through a mass movement, focused health campaigns and private and public sector involvement.
India, with its figure of 35 million diabetics, also has the dubious reputation of being the “diabetes capital of the world”. At the current growth rate, the number of diabetics in the country is likely to touch 57 million by 2020.
On its part, the Delhi Diabetes Research Centre (DDRC is a private outfit established in 1985 by a team of six Delhi-based doctors) with its pool of 10 doctors, including three dieticians and two diabetes specialists, has been regularly organising public awareness campaigns. The Centre has also been holding the Diabetes Health Mela for the last four years to raise awareness on this issue.
The Centre is also in the process of establishing a matrimonial bureau, where Type I diabetics, who are keen to seek out life partners, can register themselves. “It will be a platform for these patients to seek alliances in an enlightened way,” asserts Jhingan. The Centre already has 300 Type I and 22,000 Type II diabetics registered with it, and these people are kept posted about new developments and research on the disease.
DDRC also conducts workshops where celebrities are invited to speak on the subject. Gaurav Kapoor, Sushma Swaraj, Wasim Akram, and Kamalahasan — all diabetics — have been invited to various DDRC forums to educate the public on the issue.— WFS
How to tackle it
According to diabetologists, though diabetes is a tenacious disease, it is surprisingly easy to live with provided one takes a few lifestyle-related precautions. Its symptoms are as follows:
- Blurred vision
- Unexplained extreme exhaustion
- Weight loss
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
(Only the last three symptoms are relevant for Type I diabetics.).
Here are some tips for patients:
- Be physically active. Walking, gardening, jogging, playing with pets and kids and doing simple household chores are greatly beneficial.
- If you’re overweight, try to knock off excess weight through a correct diet and exercise regimen. Take the help of professional dieticians, if need be. Ideal body weight is Body Mass Index (BMI), which is weight in kilograms divided by height in metres. It should be 23 for Asians.
- Follow the concept of Glycemic Index (GI). This refers to the extent of rise in blood sugar in response to a food item compared to the rise in glucose. Foods with a high GI (70 or more), lead to a sudden spurt in blood glucose followed by an equally sharp plummet. The human body copes better with a low GI food items (55 or less) as they do not cause a sudden spike in blood glucose levels.
- Eat a variety of foods — grains, pulses, fibres, fruits, veggies, seeds, nuts, dairy and cold pressed oils (olive, sesame, mustard). High-fibre, low-fat food is ideal. Include fresh fruits, veggies, cereals like bran flakes, muesli, corn flakes, porridge, broken wheat, brown/unpolished rice in your diet.
- Stick to skimmed milk, monounsaturated/polyunsaturated fats. Have six small meals rather than three heavy ones. Follow the reverse culinary pyramid with breakfast being the heaviest meal of the day and dinner the smallest.