Hesperian Health Guides

Why Do More People Have Diabetes?

Diabetes and heart-related problems such as high blood pressure used to mostly affect people in rich countries. Now low-income countries have these problems too. They come when traditional ways of life change and families are broken up. New foods, new chemicals, new jobs, and new ways of life change what people eat and how much exercise they get. Some of these changes seem to make life easier but they also raise the risk for diabetes and other chronic diseases. Each year, more people are getting diabetes and getting it at younger ages.

two women talking on a bus.
It’s always so late when I get home, buying prepared food is just easier.
two teenagers leaving a fast food restaurant..
This fills me up and doesn’t cost much, we could eat here every day!
Often the kinds of jobs people have or city life in general means that people do not walk much. They also might sit most of the day at work, or eat more processed and factory foods.
New Place, New Problems
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Ten years ago, Amilcar and Serena left their village to find work in the city.

In some ways, life is easier now. Instead of digging and picking all day on the farm, Serena works at a factory. She sits down all day and sews. Amilcar works sweeping floors at the train station.

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In the village, they walked everywhere. In the city, walking is dangerous so they take the bus. Amilcar used to play football in the evenings. Now he often goes to a local bar and watches sports on TV to relax.

Their food has changed too. Instead of eating food they grow or gather, they now buy prepared food and sweetened drinks from street vendors or packaged food from stores. These foods taste good. They are fast and easy. But many of these processed foods are high in sugar and full of chemicals.

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Serena and Amilcar are both gaining weight around their bellies. Their muscles are not as strong as when they worked on the farm. At a diabetes screening, Amilcar’s sugar levels were found to be a little high and Serena already has diabetes and nerve pain in her feet.

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The health worker at the screening helped Serena make a plan to walk fast around the factory with some coworkers each day at lunch. He advised Amilcar to drink water, which is available at the train station, instead of sweetened drinks.

At home, they will make more meals with fresh vegetables they buy in the market. Hopefully, these changes will help get their diabetes under control.

This page was updated:30 Jun 2020