Survey Reveals Diabetes Awareness Gaps Among Malaysians

About one-third of respondents with diabetes do not know what abnormal blood sugar level readings are.

KUALA LUMPUR, June 16 — It appears that Malaysians may not fully understand diabetes and its resultant health complications, as the first ever Malaysian Diabetes Index (MDI) reveals this.

The MDI is a survey conceived to measure the level of awareness and understanding of diabetes in Malaysia under the Beyond Sugar campaign — a community initiative supported by AstraZeneca in partnership with the Malaysian Endocrine and Metabolic Society (MEMS).

More than half (52 per cent) of respondents revealed that they do not know that diabetes cannot be cured, while 51 per cent think that diabetes is not difficult to manage.

What is more startling is that about one in three respondents (37 per cent) with diabetes do not know what abnormal blood sugar level readings are.

When it comes to diabetes complications, amputation is top-of-mind as 95 per cent are aware that it can happen to someone with diabetes. Interestingly, while heart complications are actually the deadliest out of all, they happen to be the least known (75 per cent). Other complications include eye damage (93 per cent), kidney damage (90 per cent), and nerve damage (84 per cent).

The first ever survey took place online from April 12 to May 9, 2021, with the support of several pharmacies and media partners. The purpose of this inaugural survey is to obtain a baseline of Malaysia’s awareness level and also to identify key knowledge gaps.

The insights from this year’s 2,539 responses (which have been stratified to represent the overall population) will shape the way AstraZeneca and MEMS conceptualises public education initiatives in the year ahead. 

“We are very proud to be a part of the Malaysian Diabetes Index survey with AstraZeneca. Year after year, we have seen more diabetes cases emerge but the sense of urgency seems to be tepid. This survey is a way for us to dissect how Malaysians think of their health and issues like diabetes to gain a better understanding of what else we can do from the very grassroots level. We no longer just want to support patients when they already have diabetes; it is time for more meaningful and calculated efforts to mitigate this health crisis,” says Prof Dr Chan Siew Pheng, senior consultant endocrinologist and president of MEMS.

Based on the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, there are approximately 3.9 million Malaysians living with diabetes. The prevalence rate has risen from 13.4 per cent in 2015 to 18.3% in 2019. This is equivalent to one in five adults in the country, giving Malaysia the title of the “Sweetest Nation in Asia”.

Not only is diabetes incurable, it can also increase one’s risk of developing other health complications such as heart problems, kidney disease, blindness, nerve damage, and amputations.

This adds to the complexities of diabetes management as it involves monitoring and controlling blood sugar levels, and also other preemptive measures to reduce the risk of such complications. 

Astonishingly, one in three Malaysians believe that cutting down on sugar is good enough. The fact is while high sugar consumption does contribute to the development of diabetes, it is not the only cause.

Optimal management of diabetes goes way beyond reduction in sugar consumption. When diabetes is diagnosed, there is already the presence of defective insulin release from the pancreas on top of insulin resistance where there is a lack of insulin action.

With the limited awareness levels on diabetes, AstraZeneca has taken yet another step forward to launch the Beyond Sugar campaign, a public awareness initiative in partnership with MEMS.

As its name implies, the campaign aims to educate the public that diabetes is not just about sugar alone and that managing blood sugar levels solely will not prevent other related health complications. 

“At AstraZeneca, we recognise the burden of diabetes on emerging markets and yet awareness levels remain limited. The findings from the Malaysian Diabetes Index survey iterates the awareness gaps amongst Malaysians about this disease and how we, as a biopharmaceutical company, can play a vital role in supporting Malaysia’s battle against non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by strengthening our health care ecosystem with solutions beyond the pill,” explained Dr Sanjeev Panchal, country president, AstraZeneca Malaysia.

“One of the ways we do this is by elevating public-patient awareness to prevent diabetes diabetes and encourage multi-risk factor (MRF) screening for early diagnosis of diabetes-related complications.”

“The Beyond Sugar campaign enables us to reach out to the masses with vital information that empower people to be more informed on diabetes and to consult their physicians for MRF screening for early diagnosis. Our collaboration with MEMS will enable us to address the awareness gaps through the Beyond Sugar campaign while our TakeCareofMe flagship diabetes programme supports MRF diagnostics at the primary care level for the prevention of complications related to diabetes,” added Dr Sanjeev.

“Through early disease management, we can delay complications and ensure early diagnosis and referral to ultimately improve the standard of care for people living with diabetes. As part of our sustainability efforts for diabetes, we hope to run the MDI annually so that we can effectively measure any changes to Malaysians overall awareness and behaviour towards diabetes.”

The campaign kicks off with a microsite ( which contains valuable information and resources about diabetes, diabetes management tips, and also the full MDI report.

The educational initiative is aligned with AstraZeneca’s long term commitment to empower Malaysians to take better care of their health and reduce their chances of diabetes or diabetes-related complications.

More awareness initiatives will be organised in the coming year based on the insights from MDI. 

*To learn more about the Beyond Sugar campaign and diabetes, visit The website is available in English and Bahasa Malaysia. 

Other Key Findings Of MDI 2021

  • Malaysians believe that diabetes is mainly caused by a high calorie diet, family history, obesity, and lack of physical activity or exercise. 
  • About 53 per cent of respondents (who do not have diabetes) think they are at risk of developing it later in life citing “family history/genetics” and “unhealthy diet” as the top two reasons. 
  • 88 per cent of respondents know someone living with diabetes.
  • Over one in three (37 per cent) people with diabetes think that cutting down on sugar is good enough. 
  • 98.7 per cent of respondents with diabetes agree that it is important for people with diabetes to monitor their blood sugar levels – but DiabCare 2013 found that only 26.3 per cent of people with diabetes adhere to this habit. 
  • The youths (millennials and Gen Z) fall short in terms of general diabetes awareness, as compared to their older counterparts. 
  • 19 per cent of Gen Z (those below 24 years) do not know the two main types of diabetes are Type One and Type Two.
  • Only half (50 per cent) of the youths were aware that diabetes could cause heart disease. 
  • 47 per cent of youths also believe that they will get diabetes. 

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