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ashokbhatia

The conscientious ones amongst the mandarins in the Indian Health Ministry cannot really be blamed for having sleepless nights. The epidemic of such lifestyle diseases as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular abnormalities is leaving them a wee bit clueless. The need of the hour is to come up with a scheme which nudges Indians of all sizes and shapes to start living slimmer and healthier lives.

Take obesity, for instance. As many as 60 million Indians – roughly 5% of the population – are considered obese. With more than 50 millionObesity image suffering from high blood sugar, India is a nation headed for a health tsunami the devastation caused by which would be anything but sweet. This is a grave threat to our vision of the country reaping a hefty demographic dividend in the years to come.

How do we motivate the Indian couch potatoes to switch off their TV sets…

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Caring Michelangelo's_Pieta

If we look a little deeper, we are apt to find that lifestyle diseases not only represent a crisis in our lives. These also provide us an opportunity for a spiritual upliftment of sorts.

Take the case of a patient suffering from diabetes. The manner in which this affliction leads one to progress on the path of spirituality can be readily appreciated by considering what a hapless patient has to go through.

Surely, no one aspires to have a silent killer like diabetes as a part of the package of challenges life offers. But once known to be afflicted by it, it takes courage to accept the fact – internally as well as socially. One’s propensity to accept things in a courageous manner goes up.

Willingly having to forsake the pleasures of the palate, the patient learns the art of humility. Delectable sweets get banned from one’s dining table. When attending a social function, nerves of chilled steel need to be deployed, so as to be able to refuse some juicy items which one sees being gobbled up with much relish by those around. One develops sincerity of purpose.

Our scriptures postulate that of the five senses which help us to get connected to the world around us, the most difficult one to rein in is that of taste. This self-control is precisely what a diabetic sets out to achieve. The clock governs the intake of nourishment. One learns to persevere.

With advice coming in from diverse sources about management of diabetes, the patient becomes more receptive. One is willing, even desperate, to try any cure that would rid one of this affliction. One ends up becoming more receptive and open-minded.

Running into a fellow diabetic, the milk of human kindness starts sloshing about within oneself. Goodness demands that while serving food or snacks to the hapless soul, principles of equality, fair play and natural justice get adhered to. To be really benevolent and generous to the other, a singular lack of generosity has to be demonstrated.

Gradually, one imbibes all these qualities in oneself – courage, humility, sincerity, perseverance, receptivity, goodness and generosity. Inner peace prevails. Progress comes about. One’s capacity to look at the broader picture and to empathize with fellow beings improves. One’s ego gets flattened.

All diabetics need to manage their lives by remaining confined within a triangle of three lakshman rekhas – diet, exercise and medication. One ends up living like an ascetic. Self control becomes the norm. Spiritual Quotient improves.

A diabetic who feels despondent could perhaps derive some solace from the spiritual potential of her affliction.

(Note: This blog post forms a part of an article which was published in the October 2015 issue of NAMAH, the journal of integral health:

http://www.namahjournal.com/doc/Actual/Of-hierarchies-attitudes-and-spiritual-potential-of-our-illnesses-vol-23-iss-3.html)

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/o-my-beloved-when-would-you-depart

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/handling-the-diabetes-tsunami-in-india)

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Mention the name of any sweet and our bodies respond immediately. The saliva glands start operating on all twelve cylinders. The gastric juices gear up to receive the next morsel in keen anticipation, much like an Aberdeen terrier eyeing a slice of fish in his master’s hands.

Sweets contain heavy doses of sugar, a basic source of energy for our bodies. Besides keeping our bodies alive and kicking, sugar also keeps our spirits high. With the rights amount of sugar within us, we walk around with our head held high and with our chins up.

However, consumption of excess sugar is fraught with several risks. If one belongs to the Couch Potato Club, the body eventually registers a protest. Obesity, cardio vascular diseases and other ailments gradually start popping up. Pretty soon, life starts throwing up surprises of an unpleasant kind.

Each year, Indians gobble up around 23 million tons of the pristine white intoxicant. Each region has its own exquisite variety of sweets on offer. Talk of sandes, rasagulla, gulab jamun, jalebi and payasam, and we start drooling with gay abandon. For many Indians, these sweets form an integral part of at least one meal of the day. It comes as no surprise that we have more than 68 million diabetics in our fold. The real number is certainly much higher, given the absence of rural areas on our public health radar.

Think of long-term implications and the mind boggles. Besides ruining personal and family lives, diabetes surely drags down the Indian economy. The imagery of the country being a super power and reaping its demographic dividend simply evaporates. This truly calls for a National Mission which is supported by the public, the corporate world and the government alike.

Other than launching a media campaign exhorting the public to lead more active and healthier lives, the government can push this critical reform through in several ways.

One, we need to ensure availability of healthier food choices to our citizens across all our public spaces. For example, Indian Railways can offer the option of sugar-free diets to its passengers. As of now, even a cup of tea sans sugar is not readily available. Take a saunter down any of our railway stations and you would run into vendors peddling deep-fried stuff. If you are searching for some fruits or milk, you would have to be a Milkha Singh to be able to buy what you need and hop on back to your compartment. Travel by a bus and a similar challenge would await you. Go on a shopping spree and you are left gasping looking for a decent fruit juice joint. IRCTC can surely juggle around its menu and enable the hapless passengers to make a better choice as to the kind of nourishment they need.

Two, bicycles need to be promoted as a means of conveyance in a big way. Entrepreneurs can be encouraged to participate with the government in offering bicycle-on-rent facilities in cities and towns. Leaders and role models can be persuaded to get off their high-end limousines once in a while and campaign for this healthier and smarter way of commuting.

Three, urban planners and city mayors need to be pushed to create parks and dedicated walking spaces in the areas under their control. Cities and towns need to ensure clean and level pavements free of encroachments.

Four, our entrepreneurs simply hate taxes and love exemptions. Our taxation mandarins can surely sweeten the deal by offering tax breaks to those who deal in healthier food products of any kind. This would fire up their zeal to support the proposed National Mission and come up with innovative solutions. Perhaps the time has come to treat sugar at par with liquor and slap a ‘sin tax’ on it. Of course, this is a bitter pill to swallow.

Five, sugarcane can be increasingly diverted to produce bio-fuels. This would also help in curtailing our import bills, thereby improving India’s fiscal health. Countries like Brazil are already doing this.

If steps to control the Diabetes Tsunami are not taken now, the costs of healthcare in India would shoot up exponentially in the decades to come. The so-called demographic ‘asset’ would then become a severe ‘liability’ instead. Our time is running out.

(Related post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/o-my-beloved-when-would-you-depart)

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The conscientious ones amongst the mandarins in the Indian Health Ministry cannot really be blamed for having sleepless nights. The epidemic of such lifestyle diseases as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular abnormalities is leaving them a wee bit clueless. The need of the hour is to come up with a scheme which nudges Indians of all sizes and shapes to start living slimmer and healthier lives.

Take obesity, for instance. As many as 60 million Indians – roughly 5% of the population – are considered obese. With more than 50 millionObesity image suffering from high blood sugar, India is a nation headed for a health tsunami the devastation caused by which would be anything but sweet. This is a grave threat to our vision of the country reaping a hefty demographic dividend in the years to come.

How do we motivate the Indian couch potatoes to switch off their TV sets and go out for a jog or a brisk walk? What is it that makes Indians tick?

One, all Indians have a great passion for gold. We are quite happy gobbling up around 900 tonnes of the yellow metal every year. Walk into any jewelry store and the rush there would make you wonder if someone inside is dishing out freebies. You would be excused for mistaking it for a fish market, albeit with an odorless soothing ambience where the sales people smell of perfume but are too busy to attend to your needs immediately. One thing we have surely learnt from our Gulf friends is to build multi-storied malls where a dazzling variety of bangles, rings, pendants, chains and other accessories are on display, each on an exclusive floor of its own. After all, aeons back, India was known as a ‘bird of gold’!

Two, like many of our brethren elsewhere on this planet, we despise paying taxes. In a country of 120 billions, where automakers face a slump but luxury cars still sell like hot cakes, less than 3% pay any tax on their incomes. Of these, merely 1.3% report an income exceeding Rs. 2 millions per annum. A Pareto’s Law is in operation here as well – these 1.3% alone make up for about 63% of the taxes collected! Come budget time, and our collective BP levels go up. The hapless salaried class, a sitting duck in any case, hopes for a tweaking of Section 80C etc. The businessmen keep improvising their art of fudging expenses year after year and still suffer from indigestion and insomnia. Corporates have a battery of professionally qualified people assisting them in tax planning, a euphemism for tax evasion being portrayed as tax avoidance.

The Government of India would do well to capitalize on these widespread weaknesses of Indians and launch a slew of incentives andgold bars schemes which nudge Indians of all hues to start living healthier lives. Dubai has already shown the way by deciding to lure its citizens to lose weight in kilograms and gain ounces of gold. India can improve upon the scheme and link weight loss of its citizens to tax savings as well. A carrot and stick approach based on a single health parameter which is easily measurable (like Body Mass Index, or BMI in short, for example) could be an instant hit with the masses.

The scheme can reward people whose BMI is in the normal range. They can hope to get 5 gms of gold plus a rebate of 10% on the taxes payable each financial year. Those who have a BMI in the obese or super-obese range can be made to pay a 10% surcharge on their taxes. Those who are underweight can be given extra rations in the proposed Food Security Bill. A scheme of this kind would surely motivate Indian citizens to start jogging, walking and refusing to become couch potatoes. Those who sustain fitness for longer periods can merit extra incentives. If they do not provide fitness certificates annually for a period of 5 years, there could be an obligation to return the gold thus earned. This would ensure that having pocketed their new-found wealth, the beneficiaries would not start piling up their pounds of flesh once again.

The spin-offs of such a scheme are many. Students, if given grace marks for being healthier, would certainly switch their lunch preferences in favor of salads, nuts and fruits, giving up on burgers and pizzas. Those opting for fitness-based careers would find their employment prospects brightening up. Our armed forces would no longer have to face a shortage of officers wanting to join its ranks. The additional supply of sports persons shall improve the country’s medal tally prospects in Olympics. Engineers and professionals of all kinds would start refusing white collar jobs, providing much-needed manpower for blue collared assignments. Medicos will start taking careers in public health more seriously.

Most of our denizens who have been happier staying out of the tax net would voluntarily start filing returns. The IT Department may soongym eqpmt image need to beef up its facilities to cope with the mad rush of filing returns, what with the humble paan-waalahs, the washermen and the milk delivery men also jumping onto the bandwagon. The rush for gym equipment, health monitoring accessories and healthy foods would increase manifold, bringing in fresh investments, thereby giving a much needed fillip to the ailing manufacturing sector. Bollywood stars who are already egging us on to remain in good shape would get a fresh lease of life. The just-to-be-married maidens who are fighting the battle of the bulge and chasing their size ‘zero’ dreams would soon start earning a part of their own dowry.

Politicians who remain cocooned in their climate controlled environs may soon decide to visit their constituencies more often, losing weight while walking through the heat and dust of the countryside. A healthy body houses a healthy mind. Soon, the citizens could expect a major improvement in the functioning of our parliamentary institutions. Bureaucrats would soon follow the healthier lifestyles of their leaders, thereby revitalizing a crucial part of our vibrant democracy.

Where is the infrastructure to implement a scheme of this nature, you might well ask. With inclusive banking just round the corner, postcouch potato offices, banks and hospitals of repute can certify the BMI levels of our citizens. P&T staff members who are twiddling their thumbs in the post-telegram era can be trained and used in the scheme. The excess outflow of foreign exchange on account of spurt in gold imports would be easily offset by the higher productivity of the working population of India. This in turn would give a boost to the much sought after GDP numbers, besides inching us conceptually closer to a Gross Happiness Product.

Overall, a win-win situation for all concerned. For all you know, India could prove to be the healthiest country on the planet in the near future!

(Realted Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/a-new-year-resolution-for-couch-potatoes)

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My dear, never did I dream of being with you,

With silent feet you waltzed into my life, it is true.

 

You came in and took control of all aspects of my life,

All kinds of sweets and savouries are now denied by my loving wife. 

 

When others feast on dishes and foods exotic,

You make me learn the art of detachment and turn me into an ascetic.

 

To remain aloof from all kinds of cuisines and tastes,

You exhort me to walk, exercise and not let my life go waste.

 

I abide by all your wishes and try my best to keep you in good cheer,

I live like a recluse, satisfying all your demands, dear.  

 

When it comes to taking good care of me, my wife is near perfect,

But all my vital organs you alone appear determined to effect.

 

O dear Diabetes, my beloved,

It appears you are in no hurry to take leave.

 

But a guest needs to know when it is time to depart,

Hope you leave my abode before death make us part!

 

[Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/getting-india-in-the-pink-of-health

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/handling-the-diabetes-tsunami-in-india%5D

(Published in The Hindu dated August 11, 2013)

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/diabetes-my-dear/article5010531.ece

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