Rise of diabetes in India linked to rise of middle class

A doctor (L) checks the blood sugar level of a passerby at a free blood sugar level check-up camp.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Steve Chiotakis: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists diabetes as the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. High obesity rates are a big contributor. But India isn't as developed as the U.S. And a big rise in diabetes cases in that country is startling doctors and the government.

Jason Gale is a health and science reporter for Bloomberg and writes about a Indian diabetes epidemic in this month's Bloomberg Markets magazine. Jason, welcome to Marketplace.

Jason Gale: Hey Steve, how are you doing?

Chiotakis: Doing well. What set you off on this path?

Gale: A couple of years ago, I was on a fieldtrip in the Indian city of Bangalore that looked at a diabetes project there. A group of health care workers test people's feet, and as I watched the podiatrists and health care workers, I was really struck by the people in whom they were diagnosing Type 2 diabetes. We associate Type 2 diabetes with a lifetime of overeating and inactivity. In rural India, health care workers are finding it in men and women in their 30s and 40s who are physically active and who are not especially fat. It just seemed totally bizarre to me.

Chiotakis: What is it, Jason, about the rising middle class in India? Why is there such a jump in cases of diabetes with those folks?

Gale: I think it's a combination of many things, like changes in diet -- people are eating a lot more refined rice than they were 20 years ago. But there's a legacy of poverty which has really set Indians up for developing obesity and the diseases with it much earlier than people who haven't experienced malnutrition, particularly in the womb and right from the start.

Chiotakis: I didn't realize, Jason, that only 5 percent of the Indian population has health insurance. What kind of economic impact is that having?

Gale: Our study in 2007 found that diabetes cost the Indian GDP at 2.1 percent every year. So that's a huge cost and it's mostly in lost earnings and productivity.

Chiotakis: That's amazingly large, right?

Gale: It is. And the World Bank came out with a study in January that found that if India could eliminate all its non communicable diseases like diabetes and heart disease, the $1.3 trillion economy would be 4 to 10 percent greater in five. So that's a substantial amount of money that would be gained by eliminating these dieases.

Chiotakis: Jason Gale is a health and science reporter for Bloomberg Markets magazine, with us from Singapore. Jason, thank you.

Gale: No worries, Steve, cheers.

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