Diabetes, hypertension & other lifestyle-linked ailments, the big worry now: Apollo study

We may have seen the worst of the pandemic months but we are facing a hard-to-ignore ‘tsunami’ on the healthcare front in the form of growing incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, cancer and asthma. Many of the these, if not all, are linked closely the changing lifestyles. The pandemic months only added to the worries with the changing lifestyle and reduced visits to the hospitals and the time spent on routine health checkups. Highlighting some of these aspects, the Apollo Hospitals Group has just released, what it called the ‘Health of the Nation 2022 report”. Sharing details from these on the eve of the World Health Day and describing NCDs as Tsunami was Apollo Hospitals founder and chairman Dr Prathap C Reddy along with his daughter and joint managing director, Sangita Reddy. Both were also joined by their senior leadership team members at the virtual press meeting held on Wednesday, April 6th late afternoon.

The report highlights the prevalence and distribution of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) across the country. The sample size for the study ranges from 20,000 to 380,000 depending on the analysis and taken from different cohorts. The study period was mostly in 2021 and some in 2020. Responding to a question from the Financial Express Online on the impact of the pandemic months on the incidence and trends in the NCDs, Dr Prathap Reddy said, the “co-morbidities increased the mortality.” He further, in a note shared by the Apollo Hospitals, says, “The last year saw the country steadily building a bulwark against COVID with a robust vaccination program that led to a steady fall in the number of COVID cases. As we emerge from the shadow of COVID, it is imperative to bring the focus back on the pandemic of NCDs, a focus that faced a disruption impacting diagnosis and treatment for millions of patients. It is the only way we will succeed against the multiple challenges we face today with the pandemic, a polluted planet, and an increasing incidence of diseases that form the theme for World Health Day 2022 – Our Planet, Our Health.”

He also says, “for a developing country like India, NCDs are a critical matter that need to be addressed. In India, NCDs kill 6 million people every year of which around 23 per cent are between 30-70 years of age. An analysis of the data from 3.8 Lakh responses to the COVID Scanner shows the criticality of addressing the NCD challenge using all the tools at our disposal. The data indicates a national prevalence for diabetes mellitus of around 7 per cent, over 8 per cent for hypertension, and around 2 per cent for COPD & asthma. Considering our population of 1.2 billion, these are huge numbers that will increase the burden of disease and impact productivity and economic growth. We must address the NCD challenge through promotion of healthy lifestyles, early diagnosis and management.”

The report also underscores the potential of AI and data analytics in prediction of risk and early identification as well as management of NCDs.

Key findings of the Health of the Nation 2022 report for Diabetes Mellitus show an increased prevalence in the southern and eastern parts of the country with an average national prevalence of 6.96 per cent. Urban areas showed a higher prevalence at 7.01 per cent as compared to rural areas with 6.70 per cent. The study also showed obesity in women over 35 years of age leading to poor diabetes control and increasing risk of heart disease and other complications. Data also indicated poor diabetes control in women with high cholesterol with a 0.5 increase in HbA1c diabetes marker levels.

In hypertension, the study showed a national prevalence of high blood pressure at over 8.18 per cent with a higher incidence in North and East India. Data also indicated that adult males between the ages of 36 to 50 years have a 36 per cent higher chance of developing hypertension than adult females in the same age range. Urban areas at 8.6 per cent showed a higher incidence as compared to rural areas with 7.58 per cent.

Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD) and asthma showed an incidence similar to global numbers at 2%. Here, females between 36 to 50 years of age showed a 1.3 times higher chance of developing COPD as compared to males.

Dr Sangita Reddy says, “our annual Health of the Nation study collating a vast amount of real-world data on the prevalence, incidence and risks of disease has led to insights that will help us allocate resources in an optimal manner and develop the right strategy to tackle the NCD pandemic.”

Impact in Corporate Sector

The study also looked at corporate employee data of about thirty-five thousand, where the average prevalence of at least 1 NCD in employees is about 56 per cent. The NCD risk factors of high cholesterol is prevalent in 48 per cent of employees and obesity in 18 per cent of employees. There is variability across sectors, indicating that more sedentary corporate settings should consider ways to help their employees proactively reduce these risks.

Sangita Reddy also adds, “NCDs are fuelled by many factors that include urban lifestyles with stress and unhealthy diets and an aging population. Study results, derived from 35,000 health checks done with corporates in 2021, has also shown a high prevalence of NCDs among corporate employees. These insights will help us use technology to gain an upper hand in ensuring a healthy workforce.”

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