By Jisha Krishnan

Published on January 16, 2018

You needn’t make an appointment with your astrologer to know how your life will end. If you are an Indian, chances are that you’ll be among the burgeoning number of victims falling prey to lifestyle, aka non-communicable diseases (NCDs). From cardiovascular ailments and diabetes to chronic respiratory conditions and cancer, the latest data reveals India’s top killers.

As part of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study 2016, recent research on the state of India’s health, Body Burden: Lifestyle Diseases, found that over six in ten deaths in the country are due to lifestyle diseases. And this massive shift from communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional diseases (CMNNDs) to NCDs has been a fairly new phenomenon. In 1990, the proportion of deaths in India due to NCDs was 37.9 per cent; in 2016, it grew to a whopping 61.8 per cent.

The top killers

The study - conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research, Public Health Foundation of India and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation – further found that the incidence of diabetes increased by 174 per cent, while ischaemic heart disease (or coronary artery disease) cases grew by 104 per cent between 1990 and 2016.

Incidentally, every single state in India has a higher burden from NCDs than from infectious diseases. And among NCDs, data shows that cardiovascular diseases are the biggest culprit, causing 26 per cent of all deaths in the country. What adds to the worry is the fact that an increasing number of youngsters and middle-aged persons, especially in urban areas, are vulnerable today, unlike about a decade ago.

Published in The Lancet journal, the research offers a comprehensive disease burden report for each state during the 16-year period. Did you know that one in 12 Indians is understood to be living with diabetes, a condition which accounts for 3.11 per cent of all deaths in India? Again, the relentless increase in the number of younger patients is a cause of concern.

When it comes to cancer, India has about 1.4 million patients battling the disease. And by 2020, say reports, the figure will be closer to 1.73 million. One of the most disturbing findings of the study was that 20.7 per cent of women and 18.6 per cent of men, aged between 15 and 49 years, are overweight or obese – thereby, increasing the risk for NCDs substantially. Unhealthy lifestyle (poor diet, lack of physical activity, tobacco and alcohol intake) wreaks more havoc with our bodies than we would like to believe.

Moreover, as the study points out, the disease burden due to air pollution is also growing rather significantly. In 2016, India had about 35 million chronic asthma patients and 22.2 million chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients.

The bottom line is simple: As Indians, we are highly susceptible to NCDs. Blame it on obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, or just the absence of a healthy lifestyle. If we hope to meet the Sustainable Development Goal 3.4 – that mandates a one-third reduction in premature deaths due to NCDs by 2030 – now is the time to act. And that including thinking beyond allocating 2.5 per cent of the GDP to healthcare. Unless, of course, you don’t mind succumbing - young - to a lifestyle disease!  

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