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Sitting on an early diabetes epidemic

In New York City, it’s not unusual for hotels to make you sign documents ordering you not to smoke in your room, even with the window open. Fair enough.

health and fitness Updated: May 14, 2011 23:25 IST

In New York City, it’s not unusual for hotels to make you sign documents ordering you not to smoke in your room, even with the window open. Fair enough.

But this week,I discovered that the NYC Smoke Free Air Act/Local Law 47 forbids you to smoke on certain grounds and sidewalks too, as it doesoutside The Mount Sinai Medical Centre on Fifth Avenue.

On the upside, laws such as these prompt millions to quit smoking, prevent heart attacks and cancers and live longer. On the downside, it threatens to make a whole generation of tobacco addicts, including several colleagues, overweight.

The reason for this is India’s smokefree workplace law, which forces smokers to get up from their workstations several times a day to step outdoors to skulk behind cars and smoke. Ban on outdoor smoking would deprive many of their only reason to leave their desk, which, shows a new study, would put them at risk of diabetes.

A UK study reported this week that the time spent sitting is risk factor for diabetes in South Asians regardless of exercise level. “It is well-known that too much fat, particularly around the waist, increases risk of diabetes, as does a lack of physical activity, but for the first time simply sitting down has been shown to be an independent risk factor for diabetes among South Asians,” said lead author Dr Jason Gill, of the University of Glasgow. For the study — published in the journal Diabetes Care — his group screened 1,228 South Asians of Indian and Pakistani descent for blood glucose levels, waist size, time spent sitting down and physical activity levels.

With 50.8 million people affected, India has the largest diabetes population in the world, followed by China with 43.2 million.

Diabetes also strikes Asians a decade earlier, with studies in the UK showing that south Asians have a three-to-five-fold higher risk than white Europeans. The cause, say experts, is largely cultural and genetic. South Asians, as a race, are less physically active and also tend to put on belly fat, which is both an aesthetic and medical nightmare.

Belly fat is an indicator of the metabolic syndrome, which is use used to describe a clutch of disorders — high artery-blocking bad cholesterol, low heart-protecting good cholesterol, high blood fats (triglycerides), highblood glucose levels and a large waist size — that raise heart disease and diabetes risk.

“For a given body mass index (body weight), South Asians possess greater amounts of total and abdominal fat. People have to be more active,” said Dr Raj Bhopal at the University of Edinburgh, who headed the study.

For people with desk jobs, he recommends standing frequently to reduce the risk. Of course, if this is done without adding to your cancer risk, you may have a win-win situation.

sanchitasharma@hindustantimes.com