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India staring at killer lifestyle epidemic

health-and-fitness Updated: Mar 05, 2013 08:44 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
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We have a killer lifestyle.

Today, more Indians are dying of lifestyle diseases than of infections - a reverse of the situation 20 years ago.

Heart ailments are the biggest killers, followed by lung disease and stroke, show data from Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors 2010 (GBD 2010) being released Tuesday morning.

Unhealthy diet and indoor air pollution, mostly from cooking with wood fire and charcoal in poorly ventilated homes, are the two biggest disease and death risks.

And if bad diet and pollution don't get you, roads will. Indian roads are the most dangerous in the world, with road injuries among the leading causes of death, show the data from 187 countries.

"The menace of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, lung disease, depression, and road injuries is mounting in the form of premature deaths and disability," said Dr Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India.

"Much of this is avoidable through policies that promote healthy living."

Gender violence has battered women's health. Suicides among young Indian women have doubled in the last 20 years, with deaths attributed to "self harm" among 15-49 year olds rising from under 5% in 1990 to 10% in 2010.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the GBD 2010 is a collaborative project led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

India's big success has been in more than halving children's deaths from infectious diseases. Deaths from diarrhoea, lung infections, measles, malnutrition, and meningitis among 1-4 years old fell from 8 lakh in 1990 to 3 lakh in 2010.

More and more children are eating better. Childhood underweight, which was the third biggest death risk in 1990, dropped to number 11 in 2010.

Despite the gains, India lags its South Asian neighbours on some parameters. Though life expectancy at birth jumped to 65.2 in 2010 from 58.3 in 1990, people in neighbouring countries are living longer. Compared to India's 65.2 years, life expectancy in 2010 was 65.7 years for Pakistan, 69 for Bangladesh, 69.2 for Nepal, 69.4 for Bhutan, 75.5 for Sri Lanka, and 75.7 for China.

"Effective strategies to get people to be more active while lowering their consumption of unhealthy foods, tobacco and alcohol are urgently needed to improve the health of population," said Lalit Dandona, professor of Global Health at IHME.

Globally, Alzheimer's is the fastest growing threat to health in developed nations. HIV/AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse have hit Russia and eastern Europe hard, while violence remains a major cause of death in Latin America. In sub-Saharan Africa, infections are the lead cause of child deaths.