The global burden of non-communicable diseases has reached an alarming level. The epidemic of Type II diabetes mellitus has engulfed >50% of the population in some countries and it is gradually becoming impossible for developing countries to manage this problem. One of the major causes of this is the change in lifestyle of people in many countries in Asia and Africa, including in their food habits. Changes in food habits and lifestyle are making us vulnerable to different non-communicable diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. The problem is that this change in lifestyle is the result of a changing socioeconomic perspective.
First of all, people in developing countries are becoming habituated with a changing work style. They, like their western counterparts, now spend >10 hours either at work or travelling to their work places. As a result, most of these people do not find enough time to prepare and cook food in their home and are gradually becoming accustomed to prepared food. Moreover, most of these foods have a high content of saturated fat, are high in calories, and contain many harmful ingredients, which are used to make those foods more palatable. Therefore, people are becoming vulnerable to obesity and one of its major consequences: Type II diabetes mellitus.
Secondly, people are finding fewer opportunities and time for sports and physical activities. Everybody now needs to use some sort of transport for travel to work in their spare time. Long gone are the days when people could walk to their work places. Moreover, people often need to spend their spare time looking for additional ways of earning because the income people get from a single job may not be enough to maintain a family in many countries. Furthermore, in the major cities of many countries the playing fields are gradually being replaced by commercial buildings, because of changing economic factors. It is therefore becoming difficult to find a suitable place even for a short walk. This is also true for children who, as a result, are now becoming more prone to spending time watching television or playing video games instead of playing outside. In addition, parents in many countries also believe that homes are the only safe places for their children because of changing socioeconomic situations and increasing violence and drug use.
Finally, it is becoming difficult to procure healthy foods for many reasons. The price of vegetables and healthy foods is rising in every country. Moreover, because of a lack of empty spaces and time people can no longer cultivate their vegetables and fruits in their own gardens. As a result a significant proportion of people in many countries need to buy vegetables and fruits produced using chemicals, insecticides, and in very unhygienic ways from the markets. Consequently, people are afraid of buying these fresh vegetables and fruits. Organic foods are not available in many countries and again in those that they are available they are very costly and beyond the capacity of many people living in developing countries.
In conclusion, if we wish to reduce the global burden of non-communicable diseases including Type II diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer, we will need to ensure that people increase their consumption of healthy foods and that they also acquire healthy lifestyles. However, because of changing socioeconomic conditions, people are now becoming habituated with unhealthy lifestyles and food habits. As a result, they are becoming more vulnerable to different non-communicable diseases and their subsequent complications in many countries in the world.
Clinical Fellow, APASL School of Hepatology, Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, D-1, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, India