Type 2 diabetes in Lebanon: background and updates. According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), as of 2014 there were 387 million people living with diabetes, of these 37 million came from the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. The MENA region constitutes 20 countries of which Lebanon is a member. In Lebanon alone, there were more than 494,000 cases of diabetes as of 2014. This represented an adult prevalence rate (proportion of a population found to have a condition) of 14.4%, which is a high proportion compared to world statistics. According to the report, around 6,358 persons died of diabetes in the country, while the monthly cost of managing diabetes (and its complications) per person was 834 $. This is a high cost given that Lebanon is a small middle-income country with a high population of refugees that erode available health resources.
What is type 2 diabetes
Diabetes is a life-threatening condition that causes a person’s blood glucose levels to become too high that it is very difficult to control them. There are two types of diabetes (type 1 and 2), though the Type 2 diabetes is far too common. Diabetes mellitus or Type 2 diabetes arises from hyperglycemia. This is a condition where blood sugar levels increase higher than the normal levels. This usually happens when the pancreas is incapable of producing enough insulin (the hormone that controls blood sugar levels). The condition can also arise when body cells are incapable of properly using insulin, a condition commonly referred to as insulin resistance. When both or either of these conditions sets in, the blood glucose levels rise leading to a condition of prediabetes or diabetes. With time, these high blood sugar levels cause other complications such as strokes, amputations, heart diseases, and kidney failure.
General symptoms of diabetes
According to the IDF, the main symptoms of diabetes are:
- Frequent urination, particularly at night
- Weight loss and loss of muscle
- Frequently feeling thirsty
- Blurred vision
- Common tiredness
- Wounds that heal slowly
Prevalence of diabetes in Lebanon
As observed above, the prevalence rate of diabetes was 14.4% of the adult population. The same report indicated that for the adult population between 20 and 34 years, the country’s prevalence rate was lower than the MENA average and either at par or lower that the world average. The country’s population between the ages of 35 and 40 and living with diabetes, was lower than the MENA average, but was higher than the world average. For persons aged 45 and above, the country percentage was higher than that of MENA and the world average. Most people diagnosed with diabetes in Lebanon were not testing their blood glucose levels and a majority of them had not had a foot exam in the previous year.
However, according to another independent survey of 2014 and published in the Diabetes Research Clinical Practice journal, the prevalence rate of type 2 diabetes was 8.5 percent from 2195 research participants aged 25 and above. The research was based on the WHO STEPwise Guidelines although the cases were all self-reported.
The same research also conducted a separate study on the factors that were associated with increased risk of having diabetes. According to the study, being divorced or widowed, being obese, and having a family history of diabetes were the highest risk factors. However, spirited physical activity significantly decreases the odds of type 2 diabetes. Regrettably, the report indicates that most people diagnosed with diabetes were not testing their blood glucose levels and a majority of them had not had a foot exam in the previous year to the study.
Diet patterns and prevalence of type 2 diabetes in Lebanon
A 2012 study published in the London edition of the Nutrition & Metabolism Journal on dietary patterns and odds of Type 2 diabetes in Beirut had some important revelations concerning dietary patterns. Reduced intake of fat foods, and refined grains complemented by increased intake of traditional Lebanese foods can significantly reduce the prevalence of diabetes in Lebanon. According to the report, four dietary patterns were identified that were either directly or indirectly associated with increased prevalence of Type 2 diabetes. According to the results of the study, “Refined Grains & Desserts” and “Fast Foods” had the highest correlation with energy, carbohydrate and fat intake respectively. Coincidentally, these two groups had the highest association with increased cases of type 2 diabetes. However, the traditional Lebanese foods were inversely related to increased odds of type 2 diabetes. This is an indication that, reduced intake of fat foods, and refined grains complemented by increased intake of traditional Lebanese foods can significantly reduce the prevalence of diabetes in Lebanon.
Diabetes in Lebanon is a serious health concern. However, reducing the risk factors can significantly reduce the prevalence rates. Exercising more frequently and taking more of traditional foods can significantly reduce cases of diabetes in Lebanon.