When my children were young, we chose our paediatrician carefully. We did not want a doctor who would over-medicate or dismiss our concerns; we also wanted someone who was compassionate and engaged. We were fortunate to find Dr P. Sudershan Reddy, Superintendent of Niloufer Hospital, the Telangana Government’s flagship hospital for children. He was a fine physician with a keen instinct for when intervention was necessary. Most of the time, he sent us home with advice to keep the child hydrated, comfortable and on supportive therapy. He wrote copious notes in a manual health record system he had developed and ended the notes for each visit with the following advice: Eat well, sleep well, grow well! The subtext to that advice was simply that the child will fend off disease and grow so long as the basics are in place. In the years since he tragically passed away, much of that advice rings true, not just for children but also for adults- eat well, sleep well, exercise well, being the adult equivalent mantra for good health.
On this World Health Day, let us pause to consider how healthy we are and whether the simple prescriptions for good health still hold. Until two decades ago, infectious diseases were the main cause for ill-health. Now, the burden of diseases has shifted considerably in favor of non-infectious or chronic/non-communicable diseases. The WHO has estimated that nearly 71% of all deaths globally were attributed to non-communicable diseases (NCDs). These include cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes. The biggest risk factors are smoking, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and alcohol consumption. The lack of physical activity and unhealthy diet are also contributing to a rise in obesity across age groups and genders. According to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) the number of overweight children increased from 2.1% in NFHS-4 (2015-16) to 3.4% in NFHS-5 (2019-20) and the percentage of overweight women rose from 20.6% to 24% while in men the number increased from 18.9% to 22.9%, according to the NFHS-5. Further, the stress of urban living and the irresistible allure of unlimited entertainment via the internet and digital media have created an epidemic of sleep disorders. Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with increased risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes3.
Even when we adopt healthy lifestyles, we remain vulnerable to diseases dictated by our genes. Therefore, testing basic health parameters regularly is essential, particularly if one falls into specific risk categories. For example, a person’s risk of diabetes increases by 30% if one parent is diabetic. Therefore, testing before overt symptoms develop can help prevent the onset of full-blown disease and complications. As per studies published, early detection of diabetes can help in treating the condition as well as the risk factors associated with it. Individuals who don’t know about their health condition may suffer long-term effects such as cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Early detection can be made as simple as possible by using point-of-care devices that are simple to use and rapid, such as glucose meters. Apps, wearables and other such technologies that encourage testing are also of value. Whatever strategy one chooses, having baseline data, followed by periodic testing facilitates good health and wellbeing. In a study by Kaur et al in Lancet Public Health titled, “Cost-effectiveness of population-based screening for diabetes and hypertension in India: an economic modelling study”, the percentage of lifetime complications averted due to annual screening in a cohort of 100,000 30-year-olds was predicted to be 4·4% for stroke, 2.1% for myocardial infarction, 19.3% for end stage renal disease, 22% for amputation and 16.6% from blindness.
This World Health Day, let us remember that good health requires a proactive approach. Simple, healthy habits combined with smart testing can lead the way to good health.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.