Mexico headed for diabetes catastrophe

As the only place in the world with diabetes rates on par with the US, Mexico is on track to face a widespread diabetes epidemic in the coming years.

Right now, about one-fifth of the country's women and a quarter of its men are at risk for diabetes, not to mention that it's the number one cause of death in the nation. Between about 6.5 million and 10 million Mexicans currently have diabetes, and experts estimate that the growing elderly population will skyrocket that number in the next few decades. In just 40 years, the population over 65 is expected to quadruple, meaning that diabetes rates may reach a state of sheer disaster.

"When we project the increase in diabetes and the costs associated with it, the Mexican health system will be overwhelmed," said Dr. Abelardo Avila Curiel, a physician at the Salvador Zubiran National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition. "It can't be paid for. By the year 2020, it will be catastrophic. By 2030, it faces collapse."

What's to blame?

Where to point the finger? Like in the US, Mexico is beginning to face the kind of Western-world problems that lead to diabetes: too many processed foods, sugary drinks and sedentary lifestyles. Additionally, Mexicans may have more of a hereditary disposition toward developing diabetes. Furthermore, Mexico now surpasses the US as being the most obese country in the world.

"I'm looking out my window," said Dr. Stan De Loach, a diabetes educator, "and I see two, three, four, seven, eight people out of maybe 20 people who are obese."

And the problem isn't facing only adults. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 34.4 percent of children in Mexico are obese. Experts note that more and more young children are getting diabetes--as early as 12 or 13 years old. And based on statistics from Mexico's Secretariat of Health, about 400,000 people under 15 are suffering from either type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Obstacles to care

Unfortunately, a lack of health insurance often prevents diabetics from getting the treatment they need, such as kidney dialysis or eye exams.

"Diabetes is the primary cause of blindness in Mexico," said Carmen Reyes de Ortega, executive director of the Mexican Diabetes Association. "It's also the main reason for amputations."

And for the elderly, wait times to see a doctor can be up to a year, forcing people to go to expensive private clinics.

"It's a bomb. It's an extremely urgent problem," Reyes de Ortega said.

Source: Hispanic Business

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