The Tokyo Tower was lit up in blue on November 14, 2010. This was to commemorate World Diabetes Day, for which the global symbol is a blue circle.
Diabetes, properly called “diabetes mellitus,” is a group of metabolic diseases that cause a person to have high blood sugar, either because their body does not produce enough insulin, or because their cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, there are four types of diabetes:
Type 1 Diabetes:
The destruction of the pancreatic β-cells, which make insulin, causes the amount of insulin in the body to be depleted. This type of diabetes, which usually begins in childhood, is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes:
There are two kinds of Type 2 diabetes. In one, the body produces a small amount of insulin; in the second, insulin deficiency is caused by a lack of response to insulin in the liver and muscle cells. Type 2 diabetes is often related to lifestyle, such as diet (eating habits) and lack of exercise. About 95% of diabetes cases in Japan are of this type.
Diabetes caused by disease or genetic abnormalities
Infections and diseases of the liver and pancreas, reactions to medication, and genetic abnormalities can also cause diabetes.
In gestational diabetes, pregnant women who have never had diabetes before develop high levels of blood glucose during pregnancy. This may be a precursor to the development of Type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is on the rise globally. Five to six percent of the world’s adult population—246 million people—face diabetes. According to the International Diabetes Federation, it may be as high as 380 million by 2025. Increases are seen mostly in emerging economies in regions such as Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and South America. These areas are expecting the number of diabetes patients to double in the next 15 years.
Emerging economies are growing very fast compared to Japan’s own growth. Furthermore, Japan is an island nation, so its economic development is easy to track. Still, no matter how economic growth occurs, living in the same mass-consumption society will bring up common issues—including diabetes caused by changes in people’s lifestyles.
As Japan’s society is aging and its birthrate falling, people are becoming more sensitive and concerned about their own health. In response, many Japanese companies are producing “healthcare” related products. Through their advertisements and PR, they are also offering ideas about ways to combat or prevent diabetes. These include promotion of beverages such as low-malt beer and low-carbohydrate or carbohydrate-free sparkling beverages that taste like beer, and reducing the absorption of sugar with a meal by consuming fiber in the form of unique vegetable juices or recipes from the makers of brand-name seasonings. Companies have also been promoting exercise trends such as walking or jogging, and supplements and drinks that slow the absorption of sugar. They are sure to come up with even more ideas, since healthcare businesses and the healthcare market are growing more every year.
Japan, as an economically developed country, should take the lead in helping regions that are expecting the number of diabetes patients to double over the next 15 years. The country should go beyond the contributions of any individual company or academic study, and seriously consider how to take action for the future health of all of Asia.