India’s Metabolic Health Crisis: A Ticking Time Bomb

India faces a serious metabolic health crisis: The prevalence of metabolic diseases like diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, hypertension, and obesity has soared in the last couple of decades. A recent study revealed that 40% of people in North India have metabolic syndrome. That’s almost half the population! If we don’t resolve this metabolic health crisis, India’s healthcare system will be overwhelmed with sick bodies, and the country’s economy will suffer a massive blow in the coming years.

Let’s delve into the numbers to understand the problem better.

Diabetes

India has earned the title of the “Diabetes Capital” of the world, with 101 million people currently living with diabetes (source). This number is expected to nearly double and reach 134 million by 2045. Additionally, 136 million Indians are in the pre-diabetic stage, putting them on the path to developing full-blown diabetes.

What’s even more concerning is that Indians tend to develop diabetes at a younger age and lower body weights compared to other populations (source).

Regrettably, many Indians are unaware of this issue. A study revealed that only 43.2% of the population had knowledge about diabetes. Urban residents generally showed higher awareness, with 58.4% compared to 36.8% among rural residents (source).

India is the diabetes capital of the world
India is the diabetes capital of the world

Heart Disease and Hypertension

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are now the leading cause of death in India, accounting for 28.9% of all deaths (source). That means nearly 1 in 3 people die from heart disease.

Hypertension, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, affects 32.3% of Indian adults. Among the hypertensive population in India, 41.2% did not have their condition under control. Surprisingly, about half (44.7%) were not receiving any treatment. Even more concerning, around two-thirds (65.7%) had not checked their blood pressure in the last 12 months, and 64% measured their BP for the first time during this study (source).

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in India
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in India

Dyslipidemia: High Triglycerides and Low HDL

Dyslipidemia, which is when a person has high triglycerides and low HDL (good) cholesterol, is another growing problem. A study done 10 years ago found that 79.5% of Indians had abnormalities in at least one lipid parameter. High triglycerides were present in 29.5% of Indians, while 72.3% of them had low HDL cholesterol levels (source).

A more recent study lists the prevalence of dyslipidemia across different regions in India and the numbers are alarming.

Prevalence of dyslipidemia across different regions in India
Prevalence of dyslipidemia across different regions in India

Obesity

India’s obesity rates have nearly doubled in the last two decade. 24% of women and 23% of men are now overweight or obese, compared to 13% and 9% respectively in 2005-06. The numbers are far worse when we look at the urban population: 70% of India’s urban population is overweight or obese! (source)

Abdominal obesity, measured by waist circumference, is an even stronger predictor of metabolic risk than overall obesity. And guess what? 68.9% of Indians had abdominal obesity (source).

Obesity rates in India nearly doubled in two decades
Obesity rates in India nearly doubled in two decades

Sarcopenia: The Hidden Threat

Sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength, is an under-recognized but growing problem in India. A 2022 study found that 17.5% of older Indians had sarcopenia, which increases the risk of falls, fractures, and physical disability (ref).

Sarcopenia in India is an under-recognized problem
Sarcopenia in India is an under-recognized problem

The Root Cause

Fundamentally, the root cause is not surprising: diet, lifestyle and genetics. The Indian diet is way too high in carbs and low in protein. Moreover, Indians are increasingly sedentary, which makes them prone to developing “skinny-fat syndrome” where they carry excess fat and very little lean muscle mass. Finally, Indians are genetically pre-disposed to developing metabolic syndrome and are completely unaware of this.

The Problem Needs to Be Fixed ASAP

The metabolic health crisis in India is no joke. This crisis is a ticking time bomb that demands immediate attention and action. It will take significant efforts from various fronts to tackle the root cause:

  1. Increased awareness and education about healthy lifestyles
  2. Improved access to preventive healthcare and early screening
  3. Policies to promote physical activity and healthy eating
  4. Research to develop culturally appropriate interventions

Without concerted efforts to address this crisis, millions of Indians will suffer from preventable diseases, overwhelming the healthcare system and hindering economic growth. The time to act is now.

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