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Change your lifestyle

16 January 2009

By Kasmiah Mustapha

The sharp rise in the number of heart-related diseases, diabetes and obesity is alarming. But they all can be avoided if only we learn to stay healthy and eat right.

We can no longer ignore the statistics and reports. The increasing rate of non-communicable diseases globally is alarming. And, sadly, most of the figures reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) come from poor and developing countries, including Malaysia.

According to the world health body, globally, deaths from cancer will increase from 7.4 million in 2004 to 11.8 million in 2030, and deaths from cardiovascular diseases (CVD) will rise from 17.1 million to 23.4 million in the same period.

It is predicted that the four leading causes of death in the world in 2030 will be ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease (stroke), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lower respiratory infections (mainly pneumonia).

Darul Ehsan Medical Centre consultant physician and cardiologist Col (R) Dr Abdul Rahman Mohd Ali says that much like other countries in the world, Malaysia is also grappling with these diseases. Cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease remain among the top health problems in the country.

“We are seeing more and more cases of cancer and we know that obesity, diabetes and heart diseases are related to each other. With the increasing number of people who are obese, it will mean more cases of diabetes and heart disease.”

Dr Abdul Rahman says to combat these killer diseases, the most important thing is to educate and continue to raise awareness of the risk factors.

“These are lifestyle diseases. Unless we make proactive efforts to change our lifestyles, there will be a rise in the number of new cases and deaths.

“Eat balanced meals. It is okay if you want to eat fast food once in a while, but limit your intake. Avoid food that contains colouring or preservatives. Stop smoking and exercise more. This will reduce our risk of getting these diseases.”


WHO warned that cancer will surpass heart disease as the leading killer worldwide by 2010.

Cancer accounts for about one in eight deaths worldwide.

It estimated that there were some 12 million new cancer diagnoses worldwide last year, and more than seven million people will die from the disease. There may be between 20 million and 26 million new diagnoses by 2030 and 13 million to 17 million deaths.

Trends that will contribute to rising cancer cases and deaths include the ageing population in many countries, as cancer is more common in the elderly.

Lung cancer is still the No.1 killer among the types of cancer, with the increase in tobacco users. It caused more deaths than breast and prostate cancer put together. Every 30 seconds, someone somewhere in the world dies of lung cancer.

Dr Abdul Rahman says that surveillance and early detection have helped monitor cancer cases, and in some cases increased the survival rate.

“But it has not helped prevent new cancer cases because people are largely ignorant about their risks. They know smoking causes lung cancer but they refuse to quit or they expose themselves to second-hand smoking.

“They eat food high in trans-fatty acids, which is one of the factors that cause cancer. They also eat food that contains carcinogens such as preservatives and colouring, which increase the risks of cancer.”


The global obesity problem, now known as “globesity”, is worsening. According to WHO, there were 400 million obese people in 2005. By 2015, the number will rise to 700 million.

The rising number of obese people is attributed to the increased consumption of more energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods with high levels of sugar and saturated fats, combined with reduced physical activity. The obesity rate is increasing much faster in developing countries than in the developed world.

Obesity and overweight may lead to Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, and cancer. The health consequences range from increased risk of premature death to serious chronic conditions that reduce the overall quality of life. Of special concern is the increasing incidence of child obesity.

Dr Abdul Rahman says the most worrying trend now is childhood obesity, as more children are exposed to fast food and unhealthy lifestyles.

“They are exposed to fast food, which is available 24 hours a day. They are eating more and exercising less.”


According to WHO, more than 180 million people worldwide have diabetes. This number is likely to more than double by 2030.

A complex interplay of genetic, social and environmental factors is the main cause of Type 2 diabetes. For low- and middle-income countries, economic advancement can lead to alterations to the living environment that result in changes in diet and physical activity within a generation or two.

Diabetes is often referred to as the silent killer. Since there are no symptoms at the early stage of the disease, early detection is impossible. Many will develop diabetes-related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, stroke and eye disease, among others.

Diabetes is said to account for 3.8 million deaths per year, similar in magnitude to HIV/AIDS.

“It is another lifestyle disease. As we know, obesity is one of the reasons for diabetes. Those who are at risk of diabetes need to control their weight, stop smoking and eat healthy,” says Dr Abdul Rahman.

Cardiovascular Diseases

WHO estimated that by next year, cardiovascular disease will be the leading cause of death in developing countries. By 2015, almost 20 million people will die of CVDs, mainly of heart disease and stroke. It noted that 16.7 million or 29.2 per cent of total global deaths result from the various forms of CVD, many of which are preventable if patients eat well, exercise and quit smoking.

Some 80 per cent of the deaths worldwide were in developing, low- and middle-income countries. These countries also accounted for 86 per cent of the global CVD disease burden. It is estimated that by 2010, CVD will be the leading cause of death in developing countries.

A substantial number of these deaths can be attributed to tobacco smoking, which increases the risk of dying of coronary heart and cerebrovascular diseases. Major types of CVD include coronary (or ischaemic) heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, hypertension, heart failure and rheumatic heart disease.

“If you are diabetic and obese, you are predisposed to cardiovascular disease. These conditions lead to heart disease and stroke.

“Again, if you are smoking, you need to quit because it is still the independent risk factor of CVD,” says Dr Abdul Rahman.

This article was first published in www.nst.com.my on 5. January 2009

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