Creating healthy behaviors among the young is key to tackling a range of non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular issues and respiratory illnesses, according to a new report by the Washington DC-based think tank Population Reference Bureau.
Noncommunicable diseases, or NCDs, are the leading causes of death worldwide, and are among the top public health challenges. Unless action is taken, the deaths due to NCDs are likely to rise to 52 million by 2030. Asia accounts for 54% of deaths due to NCDs.
The report says that 25-29% of India’s population between the ages of 30-70 years is at risk of premature death due to the four main NCDs.
“Adolescence, or young adulthood”, says the report, “is typically when the four main CD risk factors are initiated and established…and the risks are growing, setting them up for poor adulthood. “
Given the critical role that the young play towards a country’s economic stability and prosperity, it is essential to look at investing in their health as a urgent priority. The PRB report cites data to show how NCDs already account for about 40% of all hospital stays and 35% of outpatient visits in India.
Broad policy level intervenions are needed if this is to change. Some welcome moves have been the recent legislation to introduce broader warnings on ciigarette packets and awareness campaigns against smoking. So is the ban on sale of tobacco products near schools and hospitals. But this needs stronger enforcement to be effective.
Also required is the push to create spaces where children can play or engage in physical games, a lack most noticeable in our cities where there ae no safe, public spaces for boys and girls to play games. Many Asian cities have taken steps in this regard. Beijing and Singapore, for instance, have streets with dedicated bicycle lanes, while South Korea and Japan have parks and playgrounds with gym equipment for both youngsters and odler adults.
Its time that India too focused on effective social and behavior change interventions at the school and community level to make sure the young stay healthy, active and avoid risk-free behaviors.