Diabetes may afflict three times more Vietnamese: study

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Diabetes may afflict three times more people in Vietnam than estimated, according to a study that found the metabolic disease could be predicted by simple body and blood-pressure measurements.

A survey of adults in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's largest city, found 11 percent of men and 12 percent of women have undiagnosed type-2 diabetes. The research, published on July 7 in the journal Diabetologia, shows more Vietnamese suffer from an obesity-linked form of the disease than the 3.5 percent estimated by the Brussels-based International Diabetes Federation.

The increasing burden of diabetes reflects dietary and lifestyle changes related to Vietnam's economic growth and Westernization, the authors said. The findings indicate better surveillance is needed to ensure diabetic patients get treatment to lower their risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.

"The disease will increase healthcare demand and costs," said Lam Van Hoang, deputy head of endocrinology at Cho Ray Hospital in HCMC, who wasn't involved in the study. "It also risks causing a lot of complications that could affect labor productivity."

Diabetics are two to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, especially when blood-sugar levels aren't controlled, according to the Geneva-based World Heart Federation. Complications from diabetes can increase annual treatment costs by at least nine times, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

Waist wider than hips

Researchers from HCMC's Gia Dinh People's Hospital and Sydney's Garvan Institute randomly tested 721 men and 1,421 women for type-2 diabetes. They found those at greatest risk of the disease in the southern city of 6.4 million people suffered high blood pressure and were wider around the waist than the hips.

The measurements could be routinely taken by medical professionals in low-resource settings to screen for diabetes as part of a broader health-care program, said co-author Lesley Campbell, Garvan's leader of patient studies on diabetes and obesity.

"It should be cheap as anything, and might help other countries," Campbell said in a telephone interview.

The International Diabetes Federation estimates an average of US$62 a year is spent on health care for each of Vietnam's 1.65 million diabetics. In comparison, health-care expenditure averages $115 in neighboring China, where the IDF estimates there are more than 43 million people with the condition.

A government-led diabetes prevention effort is still the best and most cost-effective defense against the disease, said Juliana Chan, director of the Hong Kong Institute of Diabetes and Obesity at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "It's education and actually getting a system in place so that people know the risks," Chan said. "There has to be policy to try and reduce people's risk by making sure the environment is less "˜obesogenic.' "

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