Diabetes is a ‘growing’ problem for expats in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). As expats’ weight increases, so does their risk of type 2 diabetes. The number of expats diagnosed with diabetes in the MENA region is rising; a health crisis that is putting pressure on healthcare providers, insurers and governments and could push up the price of insurance premiums.
The United Arab Emirates have the 16th highest prevalence of diabetes in the world. In 2015, 19% of the population were suffering from type 2 diabetes and a further 20% were pre-diabetic. Type 2 diabetics suffer from insulin resistance, where the pancreas isn’t able to produce enough insulin. Pre-diabetics, formerly known as ‘borderline diabetics’ have higher than normal levels of glucose in their blood.
Why does it affect expats?
Worldwide, 8.5% of adults are diabetic, compared to 4.7% in 1980. However, rates are considerably higher in the UAE due to a combination of western lifestyles, sedentary work and overeating.
Culture shock triggering emotional eating, easy access to fast food and eating out as a social activity mean that expats in the UAE have a tendency to put on a significant amount weight. Forget the ‘Freshman 14’ – it’s the ‘Dubai Stone’ expats should be worrying about!
Diabetes and mental health
Moving abroad causes huge emotional upheaval amongst expats. As they struggle to adjust without the support network they had in their home countries, many turn to food as a coping mechanism. Emotional eating is often a symptom of other psychological problems.
20% of those diagnosed with type two diabetes are said to be suffering from a mental health problem. People living with diabetes are at a higher risk of psychotic disorders and depression, which can impact upon their ability to effectively manage the condition. Counselling for individuals, couples and families of all ages living with diabetes has been proven to boost the effectiveness of treatment. This highlights the importance of mental as well as physical wellbeing in treating the condition.
How can I manage my diabetes?
Pre-diabetics and diabetics are advised to eat a balanced diet, including foods low in saturated fat, sugar and salt. Drinking 1.6 to 2 litres of water a day, increasing fibre intake and eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables are recommended. Be aware that avoiding all dairy and animal products can lead to poor, unstable blood glucose control which can cause health complications such as blurred vision and fatigue.
The sooner that diabetes is detected and treatment starts, the more efficient and cost-effective the treatment is. Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be reversed with an improved diet and exercise regime but some people will need to take oral medicines or inject insulin. Consult a mental health professional if you are struggling to adjust to life abroad, feel depressed or are emotionally eating. Don’t stop taking any medication without consulting a medical professional as this could jeopardise your health or even kill you.