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Are 'Lifestyle Diseases' Serious Enough for You? [Opinion]

  By posted Nov 14th 2012
Healthy Living
Sasha Gusain

Sasha Gusain

I often come across this argument that ‘lifestyle diseases’ are not ‘serious illnesses’. The perception remains that as long as you can control a disease through ‘minor’ lifestyle changes like diet and exercise, you can avoid these so-called lifestyle diseases. Simplistically, this perception may not be wrong for most lifestyle diseases. But when you look at the exponentially increasing numbers of these diseases, you know there’s a lot more to it.

In just a century the world has moved from communicable diseases (like TB, pneumonia) as the leading causes of death to non-communicable diseases ruling the charts as the world’s most deadly, killer diseases. A large number of these non-communicable diseases are lifestyle diseases. And if you thought ‘being fat’ is the only lifestyle disease out there, think again.

Atherosclerosis, chronic liver disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, renal failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, metabolic syndrome – are just some of the diseases that fall under the ever-widening umbrella of lifestyle diseases. I’d like to think that heart disease is a critical illness, but somehow it’s ‘only a lifestyle disease’.

Then there are the cancers that are related to lifestyle and environment; cancers of the lung, mouth, throat, stomach, breast, ovaries, etc – studies have linked most of these to risk factors such as obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, genetic susceptibility through parents who had lifestyle diseases and the presence of carcinogens in the environment. For instance, breast cancer is linked to obesity as it leads to excessive estrogen production in the body, which in turn stimulates tumor malignancy and production. Since Indians will have to battle pollution in the metros and high population towns for some time to come, it would be wise to stay safely away from the other controllable risk factors. 

For me, the most worrying factor about lifestyle diseases is that they are preventable
and yet, they are on the rise. For instance, more than 50 million Indians suffer from diabetes and approximately 1 million Indians die because of diabetes every year. Still not alarmed into considering it serious enough? The WHO predicts that three fourths of the world’s 350 million diabetics (projected for 2025) will ‘inhabit the third world’. If this is preventable, then what are we doing wrong?

We are not talking about this epidemic enough and we certainly aren’t preventing it.

To think that (most) lifestyle diseases are preventable and controllable isn’t wrong. To think that this doesn’t warrant the spreading of awareness is. The very fact that prevention reigns supreme as the best way out of these diseases ensures that we must discuss what this prevention involves. In any eventuality, to label these deadly diseases ‘light’ and ‘not serious enough’ is a disservice to anyone of impressionable mind who is paying heed to what you say.  

But, there is hope yet. While contemplating this post, I carried out a #quickpoll. I tweeted: Do you think that lifestyle diseases are not serious illnesses?

The responses were reassuring indeed. 


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