Occupational Lifestyle Diseases: Emerging Issue
People are predisposed to various diseases based on their way of living and occupational habits. They are preventable, and can be lowered with changes in diet, lifestyle, and environment. Lifestyle diseases characterize those diseases whose occurrence is primarily based on daily habits of people and are a result of an inappropriate relationship of people with their environment. The onset of these lifestyle diseases is insidious, they take years to develop, and once encountered do not lend themselves easily to cure.
The main factors contributing to the lifestyle diseases include bad food habits, physical inactivity, wrong body posture, and disturbed biological clock. The diet [or lifestyle] of different populations might partly determine their rates of cancer, and the basis for this hypothesis was strengthened by results of studies showing that people who migrate from one country to another generally acquire the cancer rates of the new host country, suggesting that environmental [or lifestyle factors] rather than genetic factors are the key determinants of the international variation in cancer rates.
A report, jointly prepared by the World Health Organization and the World Economic Forum, says India will incur an accumulated loss of $236.6 billion by 2015 on account of unhealthy lifestyles and faulty diet. The resultant chronic diseases – 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 $8.7 billion in 2005, is projected to rise to $54 billion in 2015. Pakistan would face an accumulated loss of $30.7 billion with income loss increasing by $5.5 billion to $6.7 billion by 2015. China, however, will be worse off. While its accumulated loss will stand at $557.7 billion, the loss of income of the Chinese will stand at $131.8 billion, almost eight times what it was in 2005.
According to the report, 60% of all deaths worldwide in 2005 (35 million) resulted from non-communicable diseases (NCD) and accounted for 44% of premature deaths. What’s worse, around 80% of these deaths will occur in low and middle-income countries like India which are also crippled by an ever increasing burden of infectious diseases, poor maternal and perinatal conditions and nutritional deficiencies. Almost half of those who die from chronic diseases will be in their productive years. The report also points to the fact that countries like Brazil, China, Russia and India currently lose more than 20 million productive life-years annually to chronic diseases. And the number is expected to grow by 65% by 2030. In 2007, nearly 3.1 billion people were economically active. The figure is estimated to exceed 3.6 billion in 2020. The cost to employers of morbidity attributed to non-communicable diseases is increasingly rapidly. Workplaces should make possible healthy food choices and support physical activity. Unhealthy diets and excessive energy intake, physical inactivity and tobacco use are major risk factors for non-communicable diseases, the report said.
According to a survey conducted by the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM), 68% of working women in the age bracket of 21-52 years were found to be afflicted with lifestyle ailments such as obesity, depression, chronic backache, diabetes and hypertension.
The study ‘Preventive Healthcare and Corporate Female Workforce’ also said that long hours and working under strict deadlines cause up to 75% 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 such as media, knowledge process outsourcing and touring jobs are unable to take leave when unwell, and force themselves to work mainly due to job insecurity, especially during the current financial meltdown, the report said.
However, it said, factors such exposure to industrial pollutants and environmental toxins, poor quality of sleep, lack of exercise, sunlight exposure, poor nutrition, excessive intake of alcohol etc might play a confounding role and are the priority areas for further research. Highlighting the fact that women play vital and multiple roles, especially those employed, the report stressed on the need for a balance at home and workplace. “Ignorance of healthcare can have multiple implications on her surrounding environment such as her family, workplace and social network,” said the study. Over 77% of respondents said they avoided routine check-ups,” the report stated, indicating that the hectic schedule of balancing workplace and home, along with balancing between social and personal requirements lead to women ignoring their health. The report further stated that 47% of respondents spent less than ₹500 on healthcare in a year, while 22% spent in the range of ₹500-₹5,000 as they suffered ailments such as obesity, depression and spondylosis. Over 29% respondents were found to be spending between ₹5,000-50,000 on healthcare annually. However, most of these respondents were found to be afflicted with high or low blood pressure, diabetes, heart diseases, asthma, urinary infection and arthritis.
The study cited scientific evidence that healthy diet and adequate physical activity, at least 30 minutes of moderate activity at least five days a week, helped prevent NCDs. In India, 10% 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. The number of deaths due to heart attack is projected to increase from 1.2 million to 2 million in 2010.
The western lifestyle, characterized by convenience food, TV and PCs, is taking its toll on children as well as adults, and is producing increased numbers of overweight, passive youngsters with lifestyle diseases. Kids spending too much time slouched in front of the TV or PCs, should be encouraged to find a physical sport or activity they enjoy. Fun exercises should be encouraged into family outings. A pizza-and-video evening should be replaced for a hike and picnic. Kids who do participate in sport, especially at a high competitive level, can find the pressure to succeed very stressful. It’s important that parents watch out for signs of psychological strain, as well as physical fatigue from overtraining. Young athletes also have specific nutritional needs that require extra attention. A diet of only junk food, overeating and lack of physical activity are not only responsible for diseases related to nutrition, but also anorexia nervosa, which involves many people starving themselves for maintaining their figure. This type of disease is more prevalent in the fashion and showbiz industry.
A healthy lifestyle must be adopted to combat these diseases with a proper 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. An ergonomic chair should be designed based on the human contour to fit the right sitting posture so that the uneven pressure on joints and muscles may be minimized. In this revolutionized era we cannot stop doing the developmental work, but we can certainly reduce our ailments by incorporating these simple and effective measures to our lives.