Non-communicable diseases from air pollution, diet, and obesity now responsible for majority of deaths in India, analysis finds

Air pollution is killing the planet, as well as its inhabitants. In addition to harmful substances in the air, people’s daily diets are also contributing to premature mortality worldwide. A recent study from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in India states that air pollution, diet, and obesity are the leading causes of death in the country, where 18 percent (1.324 billion people) of the total global population resides.

The numbers are dismal

When our atmosphere is plagued by contaminants such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide, people can experience difficulties in breathing, and oftentimes, contract non-communicable diseases from it. In India’s case, almost 30 percent of all premature deaths are linked with diseases caused by air pollution. These diseases include heart diseases (cardiovascular and coronary), respiratory diseases (asthma and emphysema), and cancer.

Another factor for mortality in India is poor dietary habits, including lack of physical activity. These dietary habits also involve tobacco use and excessive alcohol intake, all of which cause diseases such as the ones mentioned above. Furthermore, poor dietary habits often result in metabolic disorders such as obesity and type-2 diabetes.

According to the report, over 61 percent of the total deaths in India were associated with lifestyle diseases or non-communicable disease, both of which are interrelated. There are more than 1.73 million new cases of cancer that are likely to be reported each year until 2020, most of which will be caused by the air pollution and poor diets. One out of three children in Delhi, the country’s capital, have an impaired respiratory system, and one out of 12 Indian adults is diabetic – which is almost 100 million people.

Unless the environmental and dietary risk factors are acknowledged, India will not be able to reduce the rates at which non-communicable diseases arise. In line with this, an initiative for the United Nations (UN) called the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) proposes to reduce one-third of premature mortality by 2030 in its Sustainable Development Goals 3.4. SDSN aims to promote learning and integrated approaches that address global economic, social, and environmental challenges. The initiative states that environmental risk factors should be targeted in order to achieve the reduction in premature mortality by 2030.

A workaround for health

Non-communicable diseases can be genetically inherited, and can also be caused by environmental factors and personal habits. Health isn’t inherited though – you can achieve overall wellbeing through the avoidance of risk behaviors, engaging in an active lifestyle, and choosing to eat healthy.

Air pollution may be difficult to avoid, especially if you live in the city. While moving away from the city would make a huge difference, it can be difficult as it entails you giving up your current job and requires large amounts of money. Inhalation of air contaminants can be reduced by wearing cloth masks during a commute. Having a garden with lots of leafy plants can help the respiratory system recover from the stress of air pollution, especially if you spend time in it. Another activity that can help your lungs is trekking in nature. Taking time to smell the flowers, or trees for this matter, will regenerate your oxygen supply. Not only will it help your lungs, but it will help keep you physically fit and boost your immune system.

Detoxifying the body is essential: Some foods can help detoxify your lungs, especially antioxidant-rich foods such as prunes, berries, kale, and spinach. Having good dietary habits such as cutting out highly-processed foods and reducing on alcohol consumption can benefit you especially in the long run. Smoking is another habit to get rid of, since it kills both the users and the people around them.

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