South Asia

Indian economic growth 'jeopardised by poor healthcare'

Obesity
Image caption Obesity is increasingly a problem among the Indian middle classes

India's continued economic growth will be at risk unless quick action is taken to improve the health of its growing population, a report says.

It says that India is in the early stages of a chronic disease epidemic which affects the health of both rich and poor people.

It calls for a comprehensive national health system to be set up by 2020.

The report consists of a series of studies published by the British medical journal, The Lancet.

"Rapidly improving socio-economic status in India is associated with a reduction of physical activity and increased rates of obesity and diabetes," says the paper on chronic diseases and injuries - led by Vikram Patel from the Sangath Centre in Goa.

It says that Indians are growing wealthier but exercising less and indulging in fatty foods.

They also risk injury by driving more often and faster on the country's notoriously dangerous roads, often under the influence of alcohol.

"The emerging pattern in India is characterised by an initial uptake of harmful health behaviours in the early phase of socio-economic development," Mr Patel's paper says.

He and other authors of the report argue that the problem can only be tackled by better education, because bad habits tend to decline once consumers become aware of risks to their health.

The report states that overall the poor in India are the most vulnerable to diseases - and are further burdened by having to pay for healthcare in a country where health indicators lag behind its impressive economic growth figures.

The study also says it is important that India, with its fast-growing population soon exceeding 1.2 billion, takes steps to prevent illnesses such as heart or respiratory diseases, cancer and diabetes.

It says that this can be funded by gradually increasing public expenditure and implementing new taxes on tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy foods.

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