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The Missing Link in Tackling Lifestyle Diseases in Malawi

Diabetes mellitus is common in Malawi: over 268,000 adults live with the disease, and the number is expected to double in the next 20 years. For many people in Malawi, a diagnosis of diabetes means they must stop eating food they are accustomed to. A typical Malawian diet is high in carbohydrates, which are perceived to be satisfying and tasty. Researchers studied people attending a diabetes clinic in Blantyre, Malawi, to understand how they were managing their diet and to identify factors that enabled or prevented healthy eating habits. The study showed that many people with diabetes did not follow a healthy diet, or only started eating healthy food after being diagnosed with diabetes. They also found it difficult to change their diet after diagnosis. A previous study among people living with diabetes in Malawi showed that many had poorly controlled blood glucose levels. As a result, many experienced damage to the nerves, kidneys, eyes and heart. Recommendations include a strategy is to subsidise the cost of production of fruits and vegetables to make them more easily available to consumers. As well as, population level interventions do not require individual behaviour change, and may be reinforced through policy and environmental changes.