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Awareness can keep ‘silent killers’ at bay
Sedentary jobs, poor diet, smoking and alcohol are all blamed for the dramatic health shift. Lifestyle diseases include Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, atherosclerosis, cancer, chronic liver disease or cirrhosis, heart disease, stroke among others
LIFESTYLE DISEASES are also called diseases of longevity or diseases of civilisation. These are diseases associated with the way a person or group of people live. These diseases appear to increase in frequency as countries become more industrialised and people live longer. With the rise in prosperity in many parts of Asia, people are increasingly adopting unhealthy lifestyles that their bodies cannot cope with.

Sedentary jobs, poor diet, smoking and alcohol are all blamed for the dramatic health shift. Lifestyle diseases include Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, atherosclerosis, cancer, chronic liver disease or cirrhosis, heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,  type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, nephritis or chronic renal failure, osteoporosis, acne, stroke, depression and obesity. Regular physical activity helps prevent obesity, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, colon cancer, and premature mortality.

Lifestyle diseases are different from other diseases because they are potentially preventable, and can be lowered with changes in diet, lifestyle, and environment. These diseases are a result of an inappropriate relationship of people with their environment. The onset of these lifestyle diseases is sinister, they take years to develop, and once encountered cannot be easily cured.

A recent research shows international variation in cancer rates, which is the evidence of the existence of lifestyle diseases. This variation, as this research presents, is because of the variation in dietary pattern throughout the world at different period of time. For example, in Western countries in the 20th century people began to consume more and more meat, dairy products, vegetable oils, fruit juice, fat, sugar, and alcoholic beverages, and decreased consumption of starchy staple foods such as bread, potatoes, rice, and maize flour. Apart from the change in the dietary habit the other aspects of lifestyle of people have also been changed, including huge reductions in physical activity and huge increases in the incidence of obesity. This change in lifestyle resulted in high rates of cancers of the colorectum, breast, prostate, endometrium, and lung.  In contrast to the people living in the western countries, people living in developing countries usually had diets of starchy staple foods, and low intake of animal products, fat, and sugar, and low rates of these cancers.

This variation in lifestyle diseases is evident also in people who migrate from one part of the world to another. They generally acquire the cancer rates of the new host country. The research strongly suggest that environmental (or lifestyle factors) rather than genetic factors are the key determinants of the variation in cancer rates internationally.

In 1900, in the United States, the top three causes of death were pneumonia/influenza, tuberculosis, and diarrhoea/enteritis. Lifestyle diseases such as heart disease and cancer were ranked number 4 and 8, respectively. Since the 1940s, most deaths in the United States have resulted from heart disease, cancer, and other lifestyle diseases. But by the late 1990s, lifestyle diseases accounted for more than 60 per cent of all deaths.
We have to die of something, but because modern science through improved sanitation, vaccination, and antibiotics, and medical attention has eliminated the threat of death from most infectious diseases, the death from lifestyle diseases such as heart disease and cancer are now the primary causes of death. The question now is death at what age, because lifestyle diseases cause people to die at relatively younger age. Example in support of this is the death of too many people, relatively young, from heart disease and cancer and also other lifestyle diseases. The choice is ours: whether we want to die young, now or at a ripe old age.

For both male and female, the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease and cancer goes dramatically up between the ages 65 and 84. But when we reach the age of 85 the risk for dying from cancer does dramatically down for both sexes. For male the risk for dying from cardiovascular disease falls dramatically above age 84. But women maintain the high risk for from dying of cardiovascular disease.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 270 million people in Asia will die from chronic disease between 2005 and 2015, mostly poor people in developing countries such as China, India, Pakistan and Indonesia.

As per The Times of India report, lifestyle diseases are going to cost India $237 bn by 2015. Although India at present spends 0.65 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) on health, it aims to increase it to 2 per cent of GDP by 2010, which will prove to be a good attempt in addressing the issues of lifestyle diseases.
A survey data compiled by the Chandigarh government health department makes startling revelation that children are increasingly falling victim to brain stroke, diabetes, hypertension and coronary artery diseases. The analysis of the data reveals that 5 per cent of the patients of such lifestyle diseases are children.

The data was collected from three hospitals in Chandigarh — Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Government Medical College and Hospital in Sector 32 and Government Multi-Specialty Hospital in Sector 16. A serene lifestyle and high intake of junk food are drivers to these ‘silent killers’. These lifestyle diseases are the bigger threat than AIDS. Ironically, governments throughout the world are finding cash and devising plans to prevent a possible flu pandemic and has been preoccupied with AIDS, little is being done to tackle Asia’s biggest killers—cancer, diabetes and respiratory and heart diseases. Countries such as India are bracing for a worsening health crisis from chronic diseases that already claim more lives than infectious diseases such as malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis.

India leads the world as far as the number of diabetics is concerned. A government of India study estimated the number of diabetics to be about 38 million in 2004, and it is projected to rise to 57 million in 2025. By the year 2020, the number of deaths each year because of chronic diseases in the country of about 1.1 billion people may reach up to 7.63 million. Containing the prevalence of these killer lifestyle diseases requires sustained interventions. It can be done by bringing the agenda of health promotion into the activities of field-level health workers, NGOs, anganwadi workers, and Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs). Also, in organising various health promotion interventions government departments and corporates can play an important and effective role. To help spread awareness among the masses, school-level health promotion committees, comprising teachers, students and parents, which can promote nutritive lunches, health camps, talks and workshops on reducing risk factors for lifestyle diseases, can be formed because through this we can educate the children so that they can share their knowledge and experiences to their parents and other members in their families and surroundings.

One other way of spreading awareness is by involving healthcare providers at all levels. They can be mobilised and trained in detection of risk factors, recommendation of lifestyle interventions and dissemination of health information. A good work in this effort is the set up of a nodal centre, the Indian Institute of Diabetes (IID), in Kerala to build technical infrastructure and train the field workers, paramedics and physicians to spread awareness among the public in the state. The training of medicos is required because a study reveals that even doctors expressed uncertainty abouttheir ability to carry out effective prevention of lifestyle-relateddisease for the general populace. This uncertainty is notunexpected because the important risk factors are widelydistributed in the populace, and greatly influenced by prevailing socialnorms. This has important implications for the planning of healthpromotion activities.

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