A new report from the Centre for Science and Environment shows that lifestyle diseases or non-communicable diseases are responsible for more than 61 per cent of all deaths in India. Whether it is heart diseases, respiratory illnesses, cancer, obesity or food allergies, new research reveals that the rise in their incidences is due to factors such as rapid urbanisation, air pollution and changes in diet rather than in our genes. The new report called Body Burden: Lifestyle Diseases is essentially a report card on the state of health in India.

Non-communicable diseases (NCD) or lifestyle diseases may not have appeared among the top ten diseases in the country, but they were increasing at an alarming rate and were an unwelcome addition to infectious diseases, which were still of grave concern to the health of the Bhutanese, say health officials. Figures in the health ministry's 2007 bulletin, which features a selected number of lifestyle diseases by their hierarchy of prevalence among Bhutanese, indicate that all are on the rise. Musculoskeletal disorder, caused by a job or activity, requiring a fixed position over a long period of time and associated with poor workplace design, topped the list with about 71,849 patients being referred to various hospitals around the country in 2006, an increase by more than 11,000 from the previous year. Hypertension, most commonly referred to as "high blood pressure', which develops in people, who have a fairly high intake of salt, followed with 20,501 patients being diagnosed with the disease, a steep climb compared with 16,570 patients in 2006 and 14,195 in 2004. About 1,531 patients visiting hospitals across the country in 2006 were for alcohol liver diseases, which involves an acute or chronic inflammation of the liver, induced by alcohol abuse. That was an increase from 1,217 in 2005. Diabetes, which has a higher prevalence among people in their old age and is caused by high sugar levels, accounted for 1,470 patients in 2006, an increase by more than 500 from the previous year. Although the trend may not be the same in the case of cancer, it is also on the rise from 555 patients diagnosed with the disease in 2005 to 587 in 2006. At present, there exists no system of reporting cancers by type in the country. The figures of all these diseases could be significantly higher had the cases with the out-patient department (OPD) from the national referral hospital in Thimphu been included. The annual bulletin states that the urban population in the country had shot up from 16 percent in 2000 to 31 percent in 2005, and that TVs have entered into rural settings. Thus a large section of the Bhutanese population, it said, was exposed to many of the unhealthy lifestyles and behaviours of the developed world, propagated mainly through this medium. Such behavioural changes would only result in the emergence of non-communicable diseases, in addition to the already flourishing communicable diseases, some of which the country is still grappling with today, states the report. By Samten Wangchuk samme@kuensel.com.bt