Punjab Has a Bigger Problem Than Drugs and It is Ruining Lives
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the world’s leading killer. In India, the deaths are the highest in Punjab.
“Drugs are glamorous, that’s why everyone talks about it. But I would say hypertension and cardiovascular issues are a bigger problem for Punjab and no one is paying any attention to it,” says Dr Subhojit Dey, a non-communicable diseases expert during a conference held in Chandigarh.
Hypertension deaths and trans-fat consumption is the highest in Punjab, making it a high-burden state for cardiovascular diseases.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the world’s leading killer (more than all infectious diseases combined), and India has more people with high BP than any other country. When you look closely, it’s actually no surprise that in our high-burden country, Punjab bears the biggest brunt.
Hypertension is the most important preventable cause for developing cardiovascular diseases. Yet, it is a major risk factor for death in India and specifically in the state of Punjab.
In a clarion call for urgent action and widespread awareness among people to reign in this silent epidemic, Disha Foundation and Generation Saviour Association held a media dialogue with health experts, policymakers and journalists in Chandigarh.
2 out of 5 adults have hypertension in Punjab. The prevalence puts 40 percent adults at risk of heart disease and stroke in the state.
Moreover, intake of trans-fatty acids can increase the risk of death due to heart attack by 28 percent.
As the largest consumer (as well as producer) of Vanaspati, a type of thick vegetable oil full of trans fats, experts say Punjab must take immediate steps to limit its consumption by regulating trans fat in oils and foods through stringent policy enforcement.
What’s Makes Punjab Vulnerable?
Punjab is one of the richest state in India. With agriculture one of the main occupations, the feeding bowl of India also has extremely rich food and eating habits. And experts say this diet and lifestyle habit is the leading cause of the state’s cardiovascular disease burden.
Dr Dey also highlights that agriculture used to be a work of physical labour which kept the people of Punjab fit earlier, despite the food they ate. But now with the field largely mechanised in the state, there is extremely low physical activity while the eating habits remain the same.
Then of course, the sedentary lifestyle is a shift seen in all age groups throughout the country, which puts us at risk.
Do the drugs have a connect with hypertension too? It’s a grey area, say experts. Drug use definitely increases blood pressure and is a risk factor, but more research is needed to establish a correlation, explains Dr Dey.
High blood pressure often has no warning signs or symptoms, and many people do not realise they have it. Left untreated, hypertension can cause disability or death.Dr Anjali Borhade, President, Disha Foundation
“We must make people aware of the importance of getting their blood pressure checked at regular intervals,” she added.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet is the key.
This does not mean that eating ghee or oil etc should be completely stopped. Dr Eram Rao, Associate Professor, Delhi University says that asli ghee is, in fact, healthy.
But fat should only be 20 percent in your diet. Which can be translated to 3 spoons a day of different types – one spoon makhan, one spoon desi oil (sesame, coconut etc) and one spoon vegetable oil (sunflower, peanut etc).
The problem is with unhealthy players like trans fats. And Punjab, again, is the largest consumer of trans fat in India.
The Need for Trans Fat Elimination
The experts at the conference believe that diet changes will not come entirely by individual change. Motivating people of Punjab to make diet changes will require urgent action in reducing industrially produced trans fats in foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHVOs).
The common PHVOs in India are Vanaspati, margarines and bakery shortenings, ingredients used for making foods at home but more commonly in bakeries, halwais, restaurants and street foods.
Dr Anoop Kumar, Joint Commissioner, Food and Drug Safety said, “The cardinal solution for preventing needless deaths and safeguarding health of present and future generation is the removal of industrially produced trans-fatty acids from the food supply”.
There is limited awareness about the ill effects of trans fats in the general public. If you say the word, many will not understand its meaning. Therefore, it’s much more important to target the manufacturers.
Trans fat intake increases bad cholesterol and decreases good cholesterol levels in our body. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has already put in place a regulation to limit trans-fatty acids in all oils and fats to not more than 2 percent by January 2022.
Replacing trans fats by healthier fats is possible. Many countries across the world have become trans fats free. Technologies such as full hydrogenation and interesterification can produce fats with minimal trans fats. There is little effort required by food businesses or public.Dr Eram Rao, Associate Professor, Delhi University
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