Pregnant women, urban poor among Malaysians increasingly hit by diabetes


The number of Malaysians living with diabetes is alarming, particularly among pregnant women and the urban poor.

In 2016, about 422 million (8.5%) of the world’s population above 18 years of age were diabetic patients. Of these, 199 million were women. In Malaysia, 3.6 million (17.5%) of the population aged 18 and over is a diabetic sufferer, out of this total, 1.78 million people with diabetes are women.

World Diabetes Day 2017 falls on November 14. The theme of this year is “Woman and Diabetes, Our Right to A Healthy Future” and the focus is towards pregnant women living with the disease.

According to, any pregnant woman is vulnerable to gestational diabetes as it affects about 5 % to 18 % of women during pregnancy.

The risk factors of getting gestational diabetes include:

  • being obese
  • being over 25 years old
  • having a family history of diabetes
  • having a history of gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
  • gaining a significant amount of weight in early adulthood and between pregnancies
  • gaining an excessive amount of weight while pregnant
  • having a previous delivery of a baby who was over 9 pounds
  • having high blood pressure
  • being on glucocorticoids

In line with this year’s World Diabetes Day, The Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH)advises pregnant women to undergo screening for diabetes.

Furthermore, diabetic women who want to get pregnant should be given counseling (pre-pregnancy counseling) before pregnancy so they better control the blood sugar level (glycemic control). The counselling may include information such as:

-          The importance of planning one’s pregnancy so that mothers-to-be can control their sugar level;

-          The importance of quitting smoking;

-          The need for mothers to be committed to self-care and to meet health staff during pregnancy; and

-          To inform staff when they are pregnant.

Meanwhile, the urban poor in Malaysia is also another segment in society that is increasingly hit by diabetes.

“It is a misconception that diabetes is a rich man’s disease,” said Dr Feisual Idzwan Mustapha, Consultant in Public Health, Non-Communicable Disease at MOH, said.

“More and more poor people are getting diabetes as they tend to eat high-fat, low-nutrition food,” he said.

He was speaking at the Start Right. Stay Right. Campaign on 4th November organised by Nestle Health Science and Diabetes Malaysia.

He launched the event, accompanied by Prof Datuk Dr Ikram Shah Ismail, President of Diabetes Malaysia, Foong Pui Hing, National Heart Institute (IJN) Dietetics and Food Services Department Principal Dietitian, Yang Wai Wai, Clinical Psychologist from UKM Medical Centre (PPUKM), Emilyn Loo, Business Executive Officer, Nestlé Health Science, and Nirmalah Thurai, Executive Director, Group Corporate Affairs, Nestlé (Malaysia) Berhad.

During the event, a dialogue session was conducted to discuss the adverse impact of diabetes amongst Malaysians as well as the importance of diabetes management emphasizing on starting right with a nutritious and balanced breakfast, in order to stay energised throughout the day. Amongst the panel speakers were Dr. Feisul Idzwan Mustapha, Prof Datuk Dr Ikram Shah Ismail, along with principal dietitian Foong Pui Hing, who shared new insights on the importance of healthy breakfast and meal planning for diabetes management; and psychologist Yang Wai Wai, who discussed the mental battles of a person living with diabetes as well as how to lend support.

According to the National Health & Morbidity Survey 2015 reports, diabetes is on an increasing trend, with a staggering 3.5 million or 1-in-5 Malaysian adults, 18 and above, diagnosed with diabetes.The recommended actions to manage diabetes by the Institute of Public Health, Ministry of Health Malaysia, is to control and maintain ideal body weight, practice a healthy diet and lifestyle, be physically active and to check the blood glucose regularly.

“One of the major challenges in managing people living with diabetes is changing behaviours. This includes adherence to treatment and the adoption of healthy eating and active living. It is important to change behaviours as people living with diabetes need to take responsibility for this disease and play a major role in achieving control and reducing the risks of complications. World Diabetes Day is therefore an important platform to continually raise awareness, knowledge and achieve joint commitments between patients and their healthcare providers to enable optimal diabetes control and quality of life,” said Dr. Feisul Idzwan Mustapha, during the dialogue.

Prof Datuk Dr Ikram Shah Ismail, President of Diabetes Malaysia, said “Diabetes is a chronic disease and a silent killer. While there is no cure for diabetes, it can be controlled and many complications can be prevented with proper supervision. Our mission is to promote diabetes care through awareness, prevention, education and management. This campaign, Start Right. Stay Right will be the cornerstone in helping people with diabetes to lead healthy and productive lives.”

IJN Dietetics and Food Services Department’s Principal Dietitian, Foong Pui Hing stated, “As our lives get busier, skipping breakfast has become a norm. Research has shown that skipping breakfast is associated with weight gain and other adverse health outcomes, including insulin resistance and increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Besides, breakfast has demonstrated to be a key player in the 24 hour regulation of blood glucose in people with diabetes.  Hence, we encourage everyone to have a regular, good quality breakfast and healthier meals daily in order to keep their blood glucose level steady throughout the day.

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