Biting back at the blues

Biting back at the blues

Diabetes is affecting more children today, but it can easily be avoided with the right lifestyle

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Henry Wong and Joanna Hotung wear the colours of the anti-diabetes campaign.
Henry Wong and Joanna Hotung wear the colours of the anti-diabetes campaign.
Photo: Edward Wong/SCMP
Every month, seven children in Hong Kong are diagnosed with diabetes. Three of those will be Type I and the rest will be Type II.

Today is World Diabetes Day, so buildings all over the word will be lit up in blue (inspired by the blue circle that is the global symbol for diabetes) to draw attention to the disease. In Hong Kong, it is the Hopewell Centre in Wan Chai that will be lit up in blue today.

Let's take a closer look at diabetes so that you'll know how to lessen your chances of getting it.

Type I vs Type II

Both types of diabetes mean there is something wrong with the pancreas. In both cases, there can be many long-term problems, including blindness, limb amputation and kidney failure.

Type I is when the pancreas does not produce insulin, the hormone that clears sugar from the blood and converts it to energy. These people have to give themselves insulin injections. In most cases, this is a genetic disease.

Type II diabetes happens when a person's cells don't react properly to the insulin produced. Insulin is like a key that slots into a cell to allow it to absorb glucose. In people who are insulin-resistant, the "key" no longer fits the "keyhole". Sometimes this is combined with the pancreas not making enough insulin.

This type of diabetes is usually seen in adults, but more and more children are being diagnosed with it. This is because Type II diabetes is a lifestyle disease, caused by a lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet.

Living with Type I

Henry Wong Ka-wing carries a pack of candy and biscuits wherever he goes. But don't assume that he's greedy. He is snacking for good reason - to maintain his blood sugar level. This is among the many ways Wong, who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when he was 11, copes with his illness.

He also takes several insulin injections each day so he can eat and therefore stay alive, and plans his meals and exercises carefully.

Now 19 and a visual arts student at Lingnan Community College, he has adapted to living with the illness but is still not comfortable letting others know about it.

"If I were to have lunch at school, I would take the insulin injections in the toilet first," he says.

"For me, the only difference between a normal person and a person with diabetes is we have to be careful with the timing and amount we eat. I don't see a need to alert people about that."

Wong sees his rigid timetable for eating as a key to health, taking three meals a day and never eating too much. A taekwondo fighter for many years, he also works out regularly because he knows it's good for his body.

"I have a disciplined lifestyle. I feel healthier than people with no diabetes," he says.

How to avoid Type II

There is currently no cure for people with Type I diabetes, and it is an unavoidable illness because it could be inherited.

But on the bright side, people with Type II diabetes can often help themselves by improving their lifestyle, eating more healthily, losing weight and exercising more - just like Wong.

According to Joanna Hotung, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Juvenile Diabetes Association, parents should make sure their children lead healthy lifestyles.

"Children nowadays spend a lot more time indoors than they used to. They sit in front of the television, computer or game console. They also eat a lot of fast food," she says.

"Type II diabetes can now affect anyone, whether you're young or old, rich or poor, male or female. ... So I advise children to get out more. Play sports, walk instead of taking transport, hike with friends, minimise junk food - you'll look better, too."

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