Diabetes, heart problems and cancer take a toll of our lives each year unperturbed by the age of the person affected yet our concerns over infectious diseases take priority. This is not an exaggeration but the exact situation seen in several countries, especially developing countries. 1980s were a period where non-communicable diseases (NCDs) took a backseat but now NCDs are basking on the attention garnered owing to innumerable programs and awareness events conducted in many parts of Asia, especially India.
The National Institute of Health (NIH), USA in collaboration with the Fogarty International Center has granted aid and support for the intense research constituting non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in India. India has more than 70 million people affected by diabetes making it a country that bears one of the highest number of people living with diabetes-an NCD. Diabetes exists as a standalone risk factor and also promotes the risk of other NCDs such as cardiovascular disease. With the appropriate measures and effective approach in the form of diet, exercise and lifestyle change it is also possible to prevent NCDs.
Fogarty helped establish a research training program in India to nurture researchers specializing in clinical, operational, health services and prevention science research based on NCDs. They have a tie up with the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF), Chennai which is used as a platform to endorse research training that can help in the development of prevention programs to fight against diabetes. MDRF independently produces a number of research publications which includes a rich collection of data focusing on genetics as a risk factor for diabetes, helping people exercise by creating workout-friendly environments and so on. Its also amazing to know that many of the critical analysis, research materials and findings relating to diabetes research in our country have emerged from MDRF.
Lack of Environmental Spaces Ups Diabetes Mellitus Cases
The Chennai urban population study conducted a few years back showed that 12% of residents of a community in western Chennai, India were suffering either from diabetes or were at a prediabetes stage. Diabetes is a disease that can be curtailed in the initial stages or even prevented altogether with a disciplined life strategy that includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, minimal stress and an active lifestyle. Where we live plays a deciding role on what we do, how we live, our lifestyle and how we meet our needs to eat, exercise, sleep and relax. India is a beautiful country well-know for its rich diversity. Every state has its own beauties. For instance, Kerala is defined as ‘God’s own Country’, Bengaluru is the ‘Garden City’ and Jammu & Kashmir is known as ‘Paradise on Earth’. But we have reached a stage where every city in this country looks the same in terms of infrastructure. Each of them has become an urban jungle with their high-rise buildings, gated community apartments, flyovers and more. We can term it as build environment which denotes an environment modified by humans including roads, schools, offices, leisure, transportation, pollution and highways resulting in a sedentary lifestyle for every human being. Those living in the cities were at a greater risk of obesity and diabetes compared to those living elsewhere. The only exception to this is Kerala where rural prevalence rates have outnumbered urban prevalence rates.
Being aware of these conditions, researchers at the Fogarty-supported MDRF insisted people living in that specific community in Chennai to increase their physical activity levels. Sadly, these citizens lacked even a simple place to walk, jog or run. In short, they did not have an appropriate place to exercise. To handle this emergency situation, individuals in the community pooled in money and built a park with a proper playground and a designated space for walking. A follow-up study showed decrease in diabetes rates in the following years.
The MDRF also conducts awareness programs in the form of lectures, short videos and pamphlets and one such program was conducted in one of the areas in Chennai for 3 years consecutively. When a follow-up study happened after seven years it showed a 277% increase in the number of walkers and the percentage of people who exercised rose from 14% to 58%. Absence of parks, free spaces to walk and existence of various transportation options have nullified the chances of walking, doing exercise and staying active.
The best way to curb diabetes is to understand the different features of the built environment and modify it to promote health. Still, there are environments in certain communities that pave way for walking, biking and exercise amongst rapid urbanization too. Now is not the time to repent for the mistakes that have already happened nor can we re-live early man days when the individuals hunted and searched for food and water-an exercise on its own. Neither can we do away with technical advancements and use of gadgets. All that we can do is build upon healthy habits, daily exercise practices and nutritious eating habits to minimize the effects of obesity. Maybe we can lay the plans for a future community that promotes physical and mental health with the assistance of health-friendly communities and features.
Urban sprawl: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2878692/
Diabetes in Asia: https://www.fic.nih.gov/News/Examples/Pages/india-diabetes.aspx
Chennai citizens build parks to curb diabetes: https://www.fic.nih.gov/News/GlobalHealthMatters/Sept-Oct-2011/Pages/chronic-disease-diabetes-walking.aspx
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