by LAUREN CODLING
SENIOR doctors have raised concerns over young British Asians showing increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, and urged more education from government on prevention.
Research has shown that people of south Asian origin have an increased risk of developing diabetes and may be more likely to have high blood pressure, which can lead to coronary heart disease.
However, GPs Dr Kailash Chand and Dr Chandra Kanneganti told Eastern Eye that they had seen an increase in young patients being diagnosed with diabetes and heart disease at an earlier age.
Claiming that health inequalities in ethnic groups in the UK were widening, Dr Chand said he had seen a “worrying” trend where second- and third-generation Asians seemed to be displaying many of the same risk characteristics that make them prone to coronary heart disease and diabetes as those of their parents’s generation.
Londoner Hina Shah suffered a heart attack in 2007 when she was 34 years old. She said she did not initially think her symptoms were down to heart problems. She had been preparing for Diwali with her daughter and suddenly felt like she was choking.
“The symptoms that I went through were different to my preconceived idea of a heart attack,” she told Eastern Eye. “I didn’t have the pain in my left arm – it was more like a lot of discomfort and not being to breathe.”
Stroke-on-Trent GP Dr Kanneganti noted that he had seen many patients who were showing early signs of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
In recent years, he had seen a number of Asians as young as 30 suffering from heart attacks, he revealed. He also said he had seen an increased number of young British Asians diagnosed with diabetes.
“The cause is not understanding the importance of a healthy diet,” he said. “Sometimes they are busy, so some tend to get a takeaway which is cheap and easy for them, rather than cooking healthy food at home.
“We are definitely seeing that trend and that is why we need to make that change.”
Although Shah believes that she was not particularly unhealthy before the heart attack, she has made a conscious effort to exercise more regularly and keep an eye on her eating habits. She stressed the importance of a healthy lifestyle to her two children.
“As a family, we go on more active things as part of our leisure time and I try and get them to join me,” she said. “But if they do have my bad genes, I feel it is not irreversible and they are less likely to develop it if they stay healthy.”
Dr Kanneganti, who is also a local councillor for Stoke-on-Trent, said it was necessary to have prevention programmes implemented in schools.
Noting that he rarely saw other Asians in his local gym, the GP believed it was due to a lack of knowledge about the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
“If we can focus on health promotion for people from Asian backgrounds, there would be an increased amount of money that (the NHS) could save on (as the disease would be prevented later on),” he said.
Dr Chand said it was “far too simplistic” to suggest that obesity was down to the “moral failure” of individuals.
“It is, in fact, an unintended consequence of modern culture and powerful advertising,” he argued, adding that he had patients whose quality of life changed “dramatically” after they made efforts to lose weight and stop smoking.
“The issue of life expectancy can seem unimportant in youth and middle age, but immediate health benefits can be felt by those who succeed in giving up smoking and/or losing weight,” he said.
“But we can still only really help those who want to help themselves.”
The GP, who is honorary vice-president of the British Medical Association (BMA), said more action was needed at central and local government levels. He recommended opening school playgrounds and athletic fields to the local communities; realigning bus routes or other transport methods to increase access to supermarkets and grocery stores and developing walking and cycling networks.
“Such steps may be seen as radical, and in some cases may be unpopular, but legislation against smoking was once seen in the same way,” he added. “Our society has major problems, and we need drastic measures.
“Without such prevention, the NHS expenditure for treatment of acute and chronic illnesses will keep on soaring and our society will be the poorer for it – both in financial and health terms.”
Shah admitted she had not been aware of the increased health risks faced by south Asians, and encouraged others to make their health a priority. She also urged for more awareness in communities and among GPs.
“If a person of south Asian origin complained about their symptoms, I’m not convinced that all doctors believe it could be down to heart problems, which we are more at risk of,” she said. “We don’t want to start ringing alarm bells but being aware, asking more questions and looking for other factors can be lifesaving.”
Notably, recent research by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) found that women are dying from heart attacks unnecessarily because of the misconception that they mostly happen to men.
Last month, health charity Diabetes UK launched a Derby-based campaign aiming to help young people from Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds understand and act on their risk of Type 2 diabetes. Its new online tool, Know Your Risk, gives young people a “risk score”.
According to the group, those from a south Asian background have a greater risk of developing diabetes at a younger age – from as young as 25 years old, as opposed to 40 among their white peers.
Farhana Darwich, the BAME Reach and Impact projects officer at Diabetes UK, said that people from Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities were at an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes from the age of 25 but “a diagnosis isn’t inevitable”.
“That’s why it’s so important we help young people from these communities understand what their risk is, and what they can do to reduce it,” Darwich stressed. “We hope that by reaching out to younger people from these ethnicities, we can support the community as a whole to really get to grips with understanding their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and making the – often simple – lifestyle changes needed to avoid it.”
Julie Ward, a senior cardiac nurse at the BHF, told Eastern Eye that it was important for people to be aware of their family history of conditions such as heart attack and strokes. She added that those concerned about their health should visit their GP for advice.
“Other factors, like how you deal with stress levels, drinking too much alcohol or living in an area with bad air quality, can also affect your heart health,” she said.