Health policy should run that extra mile in a 'fast food nation'

Along with launching schemes focusing on specific diseases, the government should take a holistic approach to the country's health scenario


Sonal Matharu | July 9, 2010

I will soon see another Rs 1230.90 crore, a part of which is paid by me and many like me, made into giant posters and glossy banners which will be visible in all the metro trains and stations, under the government’s National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke (NPCDCS). Our population is growing, and it is growing fatter. But will telling these men and women with paunches that they should eat healthy and exercise more help at all if we continue selling veg-burgers with mayonnaise dripping from the sides and hot potato patties laced with fat inside these very metro stations?

Non communicable diseases are spreading like wild fire in India. And it goes beyond the urban middle class. People are dying in villages because of these diseases as well. According to a WHO report, by 2020, India will have the highest number of deaths in the world due to cardiovascular diseases. We are already the diabetes capital of the world. Well, reading these statistics and at the same time watching kids gobble on cheesy pizzas - with cheese on top, on the sides and even in the crust – and gulping gallons of fizzy drinks, wouldn’t surprise me much if we jump a few years ahead of the year predicted by the WHO.

Health doesn’t mean making more hospitals. Health doesn’t mean producing more doctors. It is one subject which cannot work in isolation unless it takes food, nutrition and sanitation under its purview. A recent article in The Guardian by an award winning author, journalist, and campaigner, Michael Pollan, tells us that “fat-free” foods doesn’t necessarily mean its non-fattening. Pollan notes, “Since Americans began producing low-fat food products, they have been consuming up to 500 extra calories a day.” He adds that people who follow a “western diet” (defined as: lots of everything except vegetables, fruits and whole grains) tend to suffer from western ailments: obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. And the second point he mentions is that people who eat more traditional diets - including those of certain indigenous peoples - that, by the lights of western food science, might be considered way too high-fat, high-carb or high-protein do not tend to suffer from these diseases.

In India, we see a reverse trend. Pastas and varieties of breads now substitute chapattis and rice. We mistake packed fruit juices to substitute the nutrients we get from fruits. There is absolutely no regulation on what we produce, what we sell and what we eat in this country. Then one fine day, when we realise that the people who contribute to our GDP are dying before they should, we start panicking! The civil society starts pointing fingers at the government’s unpreparedness. The government sees the hospitals’ unpreparedness in tackling such a menace.

To shut all mouths, we have one solution that fits all, in all given circumstances: a National Programme!!



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