March 15, 2019 11:49 pm

Diabetes education campaign wants elderly South Asian-Canadians to ‘live sweet, not eat sweet’

The 'Mithaas' campaign wants to educate elderly South Asian Canadians about healthy diet -- in a culturally relevant setting.

Dunya Media
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A Surrey-based media company is trying to get South Asians, especially elderly South Asians, to live sweet, instead of eating sweet, in an effort to combat diabetes.

Dunya Media said South Asians are three times more likely to have diabetes than the average Canadian, with 35,000 cases in the Fraser Valley alone.

The campaign is named Mithaas, after the Hindi word for ‘sweetness’, and its aim is to educate South Asians about the condition.

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Spokesperson Kashif Pasta said it’s aimed particularly at immigrants and elderly South Asians.

“When they feel like they’re displaced from their identity a little bit, they kind of latch on to what they feel are the signifiers [sic] of their culture,” Pasta said. “So it becomes a lot about sweets and celebration in order to feel a sense of home. And we’re saying live sweet, or connect with your family.”

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Pasta said when elderly South Asians visit the doctor, they often receive dietary advice that’s hard for them to implement culturally — and often in the form of pamphlets written in English that may never get read.

“So it might be: ‘You’re eating too many fried foods, too many sweets, switch to a grilled piece of fish or whatever’,” said Pasta.

“That might not be very appealing to a South Asian senior, but if they are made to understand there are much healthier options within their cuisine — I mean as we see right now, nothing is more popular than superfoods like turmeric.”

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A press release from Dunya said the campaign aims to “meet people where they already are, instead of asking them to come to us”.

The release said South Asian seniors are extremely active on Whatsapp, so the company is launching a subscription to weekly tips through the app that can be sent directly to their phones. Pasta said that will help combat the spread of fake health tips, which he said is a big problem in the community.

Online information available will include graphics, videos, and a short film but Dunya will also be hosting fitness workshops with nutritionists onsite to provide information on healthy cuisine.

Pasta said while Mithaas has seniors’ health in mind, it wants young South Asians to get involved as well.

“A lot of times, South Asians live in a joint family, and we can feel pretty disconnected generationally, but it’s also one of our biggest strengths. So the idea of taking responsibility within our families, talking to our family members whether they’re older or younger about healthy habits they can be improving with — that’ll get us a lot of the way.”

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Pasta said the idea isn’t for South Asians to cut out sugar completely, but rather reduce their intake.

“If people take two teaspoons of sugar in their tea twice a day, if they just cut that to one teaspoon, that’s over five kilograms a year of sugar that they’re not eating. And that’s progress.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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