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Diabetes Rates Skyrocketing in Vietnam

As Vietnam continues its march to a free market economy, the country is not only importing new brands, but new health problems as well. Even as some begin to embrace organic produce, there are far more who prefer the arms of Colonel Sanders and his heart-clogging delights. But, as Vietnam’s healthcare system is quickly realizing, there is a high cost associated with the influx of fast food – diabetes.

Thomas Fuller over at the New York Times recently penned an article focusing on the rapidly rising diabetes rates in Vietnam. While people are living longer, Vietnamese doctors blame “Westernization and Urbanization” as the driving factor of the diseases’ growth. And my how it’s growing:

"From just 1 percent of the adult Vietnamese population in 1991 — the year the first nationwide survey of diabetes was done in Vietnam — the rate climbed to 6 percent last year. And in Ho Chi Minh City, a survey in 2010 estimated that 1 in 10 adults had the disease."

Diabetes wards at hospitals are now filled with those who have “diabetes foot” which often require amputation. The infection occurs when someone with diabetes gets a scrape or cut on their foot. Because the disease interferes with the healing process, these wounds can quickly become infected and require amputation.

While the rapidly increasing rate of obesity is part of the problem, there are those that are slim and don’t eat sugar often. In developing countries, many people trade in their active life in the countryside for a sedentary one in the city. According to Dr. Tran Quang Khanh, these lifestyle changes can cause diabetes:

“If your body is programmed to live off of very little food you have a much higher chance of getting diabetes with relatively small changes in lifestyle.”

As Vietnam develops, public health issues like diabetes, obesity and smoking will have major ramifications on the country’s already lackluster healthcare system.

Can Vietnam find a way to balance rapid development with public health? If the US and China are any indication, unless you’re wealthy, the answer is no.

[New York Times] 

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