The eight-member team had set out to study the effect of a 120-minute training programme on non-communicable diseases, particularly diabetes, on teachers and their students. “We wanted to see if training teachers would alter dietary behaviour of their students and their families,” said Dr Ramachandran, one of the researchers. Teachers were told about the burden of diabetes, insulin resistance, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, management and prevention.
All of them taught students from Class 9 to Class 12. “We wanted to catch young students as their habits are being formed. Most often, children decide the menus in households,” said Dr Ramachandran. Each teacher was asked to impart the training to 100 students within three months. Among the teachers, around 56% were from government schools and 44% from private schools.
Teachers were surprised by the students’ response. “They asked us questions on diabetes and sought our advice on healthy habits,” said K Govindaraju, a physical education trainer at a private school in Tiruvallur.
Through the assessment, researchers were able to reach around 29,900 students. Students were given dietary guidelines, stress management tips and exercise programmes. Parents, too, came forward to report behavioural changes in their wards: Around 77% of the parents said their children had reduced eating junk while 41% of them said they had increased physical activity levels.
The Chennai Urban Rural Epidemiology Study, which covered 26,001 individuals above 20, shows that 20% of the subjects were diabetic. The incidence of diabetes in the city was 2% in 1970.
Diabetologists say this number can be plateaued if awareness increases. But awareness is low even among people with the condition. In a population-based study in Chennai, only 23% of the people with diabetes knew that the ailment could lead to foot problems, while only 5.8% knew that it could cause heart attack