New Delhi: Sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet and stress are driving a significant and rapid increase in non-communicable diseases (NCD) like hypertension and diabetes cases in India, doctors said on Friday.
According to an alarming new study led by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and published in the journal 'The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology', India is home to a whopping 315 million people with hypertension, and 101 million with diabetes.
The study also showed that 136 million Indians are pre-diabetic, 213 million people live with high cholesterol, 185 million suffer from high LDL cholesterol or bad cholesterol, while 254 million live with generalised obesity and 351 million have abdominal obesity.
These non-communicable diseases were also behind 65 per cent of deaths in India, and 40 per cent hospitalisation, a study by Apollo Hospitals had revealed in April.
Speaking to IANS, Rakesh Gupta, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi, said the increasing prevalence can be attributed to several factors.
"Rapid urbanisation and the adoption of a more westernised lifestyle have led to a decline in physical activity levels. Sedentary behaviours such as prolonged sitting and reduced exercise contribute to weight gain and increase the risk of hypertension and high cholesterol. Additionally, increased stress levels and lack of proper sleep can also impact blood pressure and cholesterol levels negatively," Gupta said.
He also blamed significant changes in dietary habits -- from traditional Indian diets, consisting typically of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, to more processed and high-calorie foods.
"The consumption of unhealthy fats, refined carbohydrates, and excessive salt has increased, leading to weight gain, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels," the expert noted.
There is also a genetic predisposition among Indians, particularly those of South Asian descent, to develop hypertension and dyslipidemia. Evidence also indicates that Indians are more susceptible to insulin resistance.
Certain gene variants when combined with unhealthy lifestyle factors increase the risk further, the doctor explained.
Increased consumption of sugar, found in many ultra processed foods, has been linked to overweight and obesity, which affects nearly 40 per cent of the global population, including millions of children.
"It is imperative to recognise the intricate relationship between sugar consumption and the development of diabetes. Sugar, once regarded as a simple pleasure, can disrupt the delicate balance of our body's glucose regulation, predisposing individuals to this chronic condition," Manoj Vithlani, Senior Consultant physician and diabetologist, HCG Hospitals, Ahmedabad, told IANS.
A commonly used low or no-calorie alternative to sugar, known as non-sugar sweeteners (NSS), is also harmful to health in the long run, the expert said.
NSS are generally marketed as aiding weight loss or maintenance of healthy weight, and are frequently recommended as a means of controlling blood glucose in individuals with diabetes.
"Higher intake of NSS is associated with increased risk of Type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and related mortality, and all-cause mortality," said Anurag Aggarwal, Consultant-Internal Medicine, Fortis Escorts Hospital, Faridabad.
It is also associated with higher body mass index and increased risk of incident obesity; and the risk of bladder cancer.
The health experts stressed the need to educate people to make informed choices, embrace a balanced approach to nutrition and adopt healthier alternatives. This includes engaging in regular physical activity such as walking, jogging, or cycling and reducing sedentary time.
A balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats should be followed while limiting the intake of processed foods, saturated fats, trans fats, and sugary beverages.
The doctors also recommended weight and stress management as well as regular health check-ups to keep a check on blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes.