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Occupational Lifestyle Diseases in India


Occupational Lifestyle Diseases in India


The emerging lifestyle diseases not only affect the economic conditions of the individuals but also the productivity of the economy which is going to be threatened dangerously in the near future

Lifestyle disease is one associated with the way a person or group of people lives  In other words,  lifestyle diseases characterise those diseases whose occurrence is primarily based on the daily habits of people and are a result of an inappropriate relationship of people with their environment. These diseases include hypertension, heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, obesity, diseases associated with smoking and alcohol and drug abuse, cancer, chronic bronchitis, premature mortality etc. Lifestyle diseases which are also called diseases of longevity or diseases of civilisation interchangeably are diseases that appear to increase in frequency as countries become more industrialised and people live longer. There are several factors leading to the occurrence of lifestyle diseases including factors like bad food habits, physical inactivity, wrong body posture, and disturbed biological clock. However, the significant factor contributing to lifestyle diseases of the present day may be regarded as the occupational nature of the people. The occupational pattern in India has undergone drastic changes in recent decades giving priority to IT and other similar services neglecting the very base of the agrarian culture. Along with these changes in occupation, the food habits of the society too changed that gradually caused the spread of several lifestyle diseases in our society.

Mounting figures of lifestyle disorders  

Several studies have been conducted by different organisations to identify the magnitude of lifestyle diseases in India. According to a survey conducted the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM), 68 percent of working women in the age bracket of 21-52 years were found to be afflicted with lifestyle disorders such as obesity, depression, chronic backache, diabetes and hypertension. Another study by Preventive Healthcare and Corporate Female Workforce summarised that long hours of work under strict deadlines cause up to 75 percent of working women to suffer from depression or general anxiety disorder, compared to women with lesser levels of psychological demand at work. Women employed in sectors that demand more time like those in media, knowledge process outsourcing and touring jobs are unable to take leave when they are unwell. These tensed and continuous working conditions force themselves to work mainly due to job insecurity, especially during the current financial meltdown. In India, around 10 percent of adults suffer from hypertension while the country is home to 25-30 million diabetics. Three out of every 1,000 people suffer a stroke.  

IT sector has been playing dominant role in Indian economy both in terms of contribution to GDP and its employment generation capability. It was estimated that this sector has increased its contribution to India’s GDP from 1.2 percent in FY 1998 to 7.5 percent in Y2012. Moreover, this sector has also led to massive employment generation. The industry continues to be a net employment generator - expected to add 230,000 jobs in FY 2012, thus providing direct employment to about 2.8 million, and indirectly employing 8.9 million people. Generally being a dominant player in the global outsourcing sector Indian IT sector has emerged to be a key development strategy. Due to the above factors, majority of Indian youth depend directly or indirectly on this priority sector. However, according to the findings of the study by ASSOCHAM, around 55 percent of young workforce engaged in India’s IT and ITES sector are stricken with lifestyle disorders due to factors like hectic work schedules, unhealthy eating habits, tight deadlines, irregular and associated stress. More than half of the respondents participated in the survey said that due to 24 x 7 working environment and irregular food timings they directly place orders to fast food outlets, street food vendors and roadside eateries operating outside their offices serving ready to eat high calorie processed food items like noodles, burgers, pizza, and fried stuff like samosas along with aerated drinks, and coffee, etc.  

Sleeping disorders are alarmingly growing among the employees in the corporate work field. ASSOCHAM records that 78 percent of corporate employees suffer from sleeping disorders leading to Impact of Insomnia on Health and Productivity. Due to demanding schedules and high stress levels, nearly 78 percent of the corporate employees sleep less than 6 hours in a day which leads to sleep disorders amongst them. The report is based on the survey conducted in the major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabd, Pune, Chandigarh, Dehradun etc. As per ASSOCHAM’S corporate employees’ survey result, 36 percent of the sample population are also suffering from obesity. It can be logically summarised that obesity alone can modify occupational morbidity, mortality and injury risks that can further affect workplace absence, disability, productivity and healthcare costs. Almost 21 percent of the sample corporate  employees suffer from another serious lifestyle disease called depression. High blood pressure and diabetes are the fourth and fifth largest diseases with a share of 12 percent and 8 percent respectively as suffered among the corporate employees.  

A striking case of life style disorders found in the India’s most developed state, Kerala which is almost on par with some of the European countries and America in terms of development indictors. The state is fast emerging as the lifestyle diseases capital of India with the prevalence of hypertension, diabetes, obesity and other risk factors for heart disease reaching levels comparable to those in America, as revealed in a recent  study done by Dr K R Thankappan and his colleagues at the Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies. It was found that overall prevalence of diabetes in Kerala is about 16.2 percent. This is estimated to be 50 percent higher than in the US, according to the results of the study published in the Indian journal of Medical Research. High blood pressure is present in 32 percent people, comparable to recent estimates in the US. Close to 57 percent people studied had abnormal levels of cholesterol, while 39.5 percent had low HDL cholesterol. The prevalence of smoking in men and use of alcohol are dangerously growing in the state. This transition of the state to an era of life style diseases is driven by economic growth, urbanization and our changing food habits.

Economic and productivity impact 

It is predicted that globally, deaths from non communicable diseases (NCD) will increase by 77 percent between 1990 and 2020 and that most of these deaths will occur in the developing regions of the world including India. These conditions not only cause enormous human suffering, they also threat the economies of many countries as they impact on the older and experienced members of the workforce. In India alone, heart ailments, stroke and diabetes are the most demanding ones which are expected to take away the country’s gross national income to a huge extent by the year 2015.  

As per the report, jointly prepared by the World Health Organization and the World Economic Forum, India will incur an accumulated loss of $236.6 billion by 2015 on account of unhealthy lifestyles and faulty diet. The resultant chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and respiratory infections which are ailments of long duration and slow progression, will severely affect people’s earnings. The income loss to Indians because of these diseases, which was $8.7billion in 2005, is projected to rise o $54 billion in 2015. 

ASSOCHAM’s healthcare survey further reveals that 41 percent of employees spend in the range of Rs.500-5000 on health care in a financial year. Over 36 percent of the survey respondents say that they spend less than Rs. 500 on their health expenditure in a year. 21 percent of the employee’s health expenditure ranged between Rs. 5,000-50000, as they suffered from diabetes, acute liver disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Merely 2 percent of the employees spend more than Rs. 50,000 due to heart disease, paralytic attack, surgery etc.  

India’s rapid economic growth could be slowed by a sharp rise in the prevalence of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and the successful information technology industry is likely to be the hardest hit. So-called lifestyle diseases are estimated to have wiped $ 9 billion off the country’s national income in 2005, but the cost could reach more than £ 100 billion over the next 10 years if corrective action is not taken soon. The study by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations says that although India’s boom has brought spiralling corporate profits and higher incomes for employees, it has also led to a surge in workplace stress and lifestyle diseases.  

The emerging lifestyle diseases not only affect the economic conditions of the individuals but also the productivity of the economy which is going to be threatened dangerously in the near future. As majority of employees especially those in the IT sector suffer from different types of health disorders and obesity, the productivity that depends on the efficiency and enthusiastic involvement of youth may in all way have to be compromised. The wrong choice of occupation in the blind run for higher salaries and the resultantly developing food habits generate all kinds of evil effects to the health of our youth. Over exploitation of the potentials of our youth particularly those in the IT sector may in course of time depreciate their efficiency and productivity leading to poor economic performance of the economy.

Concluding remarks  

A healthy lifestyle must be adopted to combat these diseases with a  roper balanced diet, physical activity and by giving due respect to biological clock. To decrease the ailments caused by occupational postures, one should avoid long sitting hours and should take frequent breaks for stretching or for other works involving physical movements. In this revolutionised era we cannot stop doing the developmental work, but we can certainly reduce ou r  ailments by incorporating these simple and effective measures to our lives. The working conditions especially in the IT sector should be properly monitored assuring that the potentials of our youth are not overexploited by the corporate profit motive employers. Moreover, the consumption pattern giving priority to fast food culture has to be effectively controlled. Even though, consumerism increases spending and boosts a country’s economy therefore increases its status around the globe, the evidence presented demonstrates the effects of unregulated consumption in modern society. Here is the role the media, marketers and social class play in moulding an individuals’ identity, protecting their good health and the efficiency and productivity of nation’s huge human resources.

Jomon Mathew The author is Assistant Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, University College,  Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.


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