LIFESTYLE DISEASES – Tip of the iceberg (?)

Myocardial infarction, angina pectoris, hyperglycemia…

Lost in all this jargon? Well believe it or not, they’re all names of diseases. Wait a minute; you might just be the next innocent victim of one of these!

Baffled? Confused? These aren’t endemics, epidemics or pandemics that everyone keeps talking about.  They are the less mentioned ‘lifestyle diseases’ with possible future implications much more severe than most ‘popular’ diseases! Health issues like diabetes, chronic heart problems, obesity and hypertension surely qualify as the next killer diseases. The problem has become more acute, thanks to our hectic and unhealthy lifestyle. Sedentary jobs, poor diet, alcohol, lack of stress coping mechanisms – are all major players in this worsening health crisis.

Still don’t realize the gravity of the situation? The youth of today live a life devoid of much physical activity coupled with high stress levels. Increasing consumption of tobacco and alcohol further aggravate this dramatic health shift.

We are a nation having a majority of youth population, which is greater than that of any other country. Today, the average age when a person may suffer a heart attack, has come down from 40 years to 30 years. India leads the world in diabetes cases. A government study estimated the number of diabetics to be having been about 38 million in 2004 and projected a rise to 57 million by 2025. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 270 million people, in Asia, will die from chronic diseases between 2005 and 2015.These will mostly be poor people in developing countries such as China, India, Pakistan and Indonesia.

Shocked? Surely it is shocking, but definitely not surprising. All of us will partly relate to the above mentioned lifestyles but not many of us truly understand its serious repercussions. How exactly did all this happen? You may say, “I have been following this routine for long and to me, it seems to be quite a ‘normal’ lifestyle.”

It wouldn’t be totally fair to only blame the latest junk food joints, for our dietary consumption of fats. The Indian food culture, with all its frying in desi ghee and our inherited sweetooth, have contributed to our saturated fat consumption and diabetic problems!  Obesity is the immediate health issue, or more appropriately the disease, emanating from such a diet. So grave is the situation that India organised its ninth Anti-Obesity Day on Nov 26, 2009. A study by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) found that 76 percent of women, in Delhi, suffer from abdominal obesity.

Heart problem is another long term consequence of such eating habits. The cholesterol gets deposited in the arteries, making them narrower and narrower. The constricted arteries restrict the regular blood supply to the heart, leading to heart-attacks and many other coronary artery diseases.

Stress and work-pressures further add to the rising cases of heart diseases. With everyone competing in this rat race, the youth is subjected to cut-throat competition and pressures to out-perform, right from student life. Such anxieties and tensions only get intensified in his/her professional life. Increased work pressures are shown to greatly increase the risk of developing coronary artery diseases.

If all these factors weren’t enough, we have tobacco, alcohol and drugs further adding to the crisis. The youth consider smoking a ‘cool’ thing. It generally begins with the experimenting phase followed by the innumerable ‘quit-smoking’ phases.

Nicotine, a highly addictive and toxic substance present in tobacco smoke, diffuses into the blood stream. It causes a variety of adverse effects on the body like increasing heart rate and blood pressure. It damages the inner lining of the blood vessels, which supply blood to the heart, causing endothelial dysfunction. This increases the risk of contracting coronary artery disease. Also, 87% cases of lung cancer are as a result of smoking. They say: smoking helps reduce weight. Well it sure does reduce the weight of one lung at a time!

Alcohol consumption too has its ill-effects, on the heart. It is shown to depress the left ventricle of the heart, which is responsible for pumping blood to the body. This in turn leads to various coronary artery diseases.

Now, put all these factors together, like: improper diet, stress, alcohol, smoking and you end up with the most lethal combination ever. My purpose is not to create panic but to create awareness. We have extensive coverage of pandemics like ‘bird flu’, but little is done to tackle diabetes and heart disorders. Our unhealthy habits are now deeply ingrained in our daily routine. They give rise to lifestyle diseases that are a great threat to humanity, considering it affects people on a much larger scale.

They aptly say: “Prevention is better than cure.” Prevention here is to lead a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle. If any such unhealthy habits apply to you, even though slightly, sit up and take action. A nutritious and balanced diet, proper physical activity, low stress levels are all key ingredients to a healthy lifestyle.

It is encouraging to see that a significant percentage of people have already become health conscious. Only a healthy youth population can constitute to a country’s demographic dividend. Join the revolution. Let us together strike out this term ‘Lifestyle diseases’ from the medical dictionary!

Paloma Sodhi

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