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Obesity & Diabetes: How corporates and society can help deal with these silent killers

The human cost and the price for not addressing adequately the topic of obesity & diabetes is very high. Also, it impairs our social development as well as reduced economic development potential. It's time to wake up and smell the coffee, but of course, without the sugar

Srinath Sridharan | December 31, 2020 | Updated 00:03 IST
Obesity & Diabetes: How corporates and society can help deal with these silent killers
It's time we wake up to the dangers of O&D, work towards better awareness to demystify the topic, and work better as a society in prevention of it and care for those affected

Enough public data and research studies are available to showcase the dangers that nearly 1/3rd of the Indian population could be prone to Obesity and Diabetes (O&D) in the years to come. This scenario is bound to be harsh on individuals suffering as well as their families due to heavy costs involved - physical, mental, emotional, and financial.

As a society, we shy away from speaking about these topics. This is not a taboo subject.

We would rather be better off in serving ourselves and our next generations better, by openly discussing these topics. And in finding societal acceptance to ensure that there is no stigma for those suffering; and to enable better awareness and proactive lifestyle to overcome these health issues. Sense of "why me" to a denial that "it cannot do anything to me" is a constant observation of those impacted by O&D.

Also Read: World Diabetes Day 2020: Why health insurance for diabetics is a must

Generally, society talks of the patients suffering from it. For a change, let's look at their loved ones and caregivers at home, and the greater cost of human suffering as well as the impact on the economic progress of the nation.

Indian context

Diabetes is one of the major health problems affecting a large number of individuals and has reached epidemic proportions worldwide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has projected that around 300 million people will suffer from diabetes by 2025.

India has the second-largest number of diabetes cases in the world, with currently over 72 million cases of the disease.

Uncontrolled diabetes is a risk factor for kidney failure, stroke, and heart disease. Studies also indicate a direct correlation between increased incidences of depression.

Among the well-known risk factors of diabetes, one of the most important and major risk factors is obesity (BMI?30kg/m2). It is estimated that over 60% of all patients with type 2 diabetes are obese. A strong relationship between obesity and the onset of diabetes has been reported in a number of studies. As our economic prosperity increased, access to unhealthy and processed food has increased. Junk food addiction has been on the rise.

Also Read: People with diabetes at higher risk of succumbing to COVID-19

Obesity is also no longer a condition that just affects older people, although the likelihood does increase with age, and an increasing number of young people have been diagnosed with the disease. Working with healthier lifestyle choices can help reduce/prevent obesity. By 2025, India could have over 17 million obese children.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, the stress has increased across individuals and families. Stress-triggered binge eating and consumption of junk food is also an indicator that we need to be careful.

Pain and suffering

Living in denial and not wanting to pursue active lifestyle management is commonly seen. The need for an adequate and relevant diet, exercise to stay active, and focused medical care are basic needs for those with obesity and diabetes. While it sounds simple to solve, many of the patients, in their mental turmoil, don't understand the pain it causes the family around them. When patients are in denial or self-pity, the treatment can't start.

Mental health could also be affected due to stress and strain. It would need active care and proactive management to keep the mental and physical well-being of those impacted by O&D, as well as their loved ones. And that's where the strongest of denials and staunchest of protests will be seen by all concerned and impacted stakeholders, including the patient.

Looking at this from the prism of the Indian corporate sector, the real danger is in the sustained livelihood if the patient is the sole breadwinner. One in five employees in corporate India is estimated to suffer from either diabetes or hypertension. Caring corporates would understand the challenges of O&D and have a congenial workplace for employees affected by it, but such a proportion of employers would be minimal. The pressures of employment surely increased this year with the COVID-19 impacted economy.

Also Read: Majority of corporate executives in India are unfit and overweight, says a study

Also, a challenge that corporate India needs to handle with sensitivity is that in today's "activism" led world and plethora of social media-filled news, even genuine gesture of empathy and concern for a colleague should not be misconstrued as harassment, discrimination, abuse, or body shaming accusation.

Companies will suffer if many of their employees suffer from O&D. The issues of increased absenteeism, high group health insurance costs that companies have to pay, sub-optimal work output due to health issues are the impacts the corporates have to bear.

This year, unlike no other year in human history, has showcased that "health is wealth". Corporates need to do more to address solutions at workplace for O&D, including looking at having a better understanding of the ecosystem across the organisation and healthy food being served at its premises. After all, healthy employees build and enjoy the fruits of successful companies.

And looking from the Indian familial society concept, if the patient is the main caregiver or the sole bread-winner, the pain on the family is immense. If the patient is a child, then it's a big worry to ensure his/her coping mechanism and ability to have a sustainable livelihood. If the patient is of younger/middle age, the worries will constantly persist about his/her ability to cope with the medical condition and balance it with family across three generations.

Also Read: Cut the flab: Time for India to acknowledge adverse effects of obesity before it is too late

And the constant worry that something could happen to the family member is the real silent danger. The challenge is to get them to accept it and to get it treated.

It's time we wake up to the dangers of O&D, work towards better awareness to demystify the topic, and work better as a society in prevention of it and care for those affected. We have reasonably sufficient medical care available to treat both of them.

A healthier future needs us to be active, today onwards!  

(The author is an independent markets commentator.)

(Disclaimer: The author is NOT a medical doctor; has penned this article with context of societal & corporate angle and not medical.)

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