Chandigarh: Deaths due to cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke are on the rise across the country but more so in Punjab. Hypertension is the most important preventable cause for developing cardiovascular diseases. In a clarion call for urgent action and widespread awareness among people to reign in this silent epidemic, Disha Foundation and Generation Saviour Association held a media dialogue with health experts, policymakers and journalists in Chandigarh.
Two in five adults are hypertensive in Punjab. And almost equal number are in prehypertensive stage who are at risk to develop hypertension. Moreover, intake of trans-fatty acids can increase the risk of death due to heart attack by 28%. As the highest consumer of Vanaspati, Punjab must take immediate steps to limit its consumption by regulating trans fat in oils and foods through stringent policy enforcement.
In the meeting Dr GB Singh, Assistant Director, in charge NCD, Health Services, Department of Health and Family Welfare, Punjab, talked about the steps that the Government is working on to screen people above 30 years of age for high blood pressure and ensuring that treatment is available to all. “ASHAs and ANMs have been trained to screen people with high blood pressure and to ensure that they register for treatment. The Government is making blood pressure medicines available up to sub centre level. Patients should continue taking medication lifelong to keep their blood pressure under control.”
Other experts like Dr. Anoop Kumar, Joint Director, Food Safety, Punjab; Dr Eram Rao, Associate Professor, University of Delhi; Dr Anjali Borhade, Disha Foundation; Dr Subhojit Dey, Disha Foundation and Ms Opinder Preet Kaur, Generation Saviour Association also spoke at the occasion, highlighting the actions to be taken aimed at improving the health outcomes of the people of Punjab.
Emphasising the need to make people more aware, Dr Anjali Borhade, President, Disha Foundation, said: “High blood pressure often has no warning signs or symptoms, and many people do not realize they have it. Left untreated, hypertension can cause disability or death. We must make people aware of the importance of getting their blood pressure checked at regular intervals. Besides maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet, it is equally important to continue to take medications regularly.”
Motivating people of Punjab to make diet changes will require urgent action in reducing industrially produced trans fats in foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHVOs). The common PHVOs in India are Vanaspati, margarines and bakery shortenings, ingredients used for making foods at home but more commonly in bakeries, halwais, restaurants and street foods.
Dr Anoop Kumar, Joint Commissioner, Food and Drug Safety said, “The cardinal solution for preventing needless deaths and safeguarding health of present and future generation is the removal of industrially produced trans-fatty acids from the food supply”. He also assured that the Food Safety Department in Punjab is committed to reducing industrially produced trans fats.
Ms Opinder Preet Kaur, President, Generation Saviour Association, an NGO working for better health of future generations, said: “There is limited awareness about the ill effects of trans fats, intake of which increases bad cholesterol and decreases good cholesterol levels in our body. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has already put in place a regulation to limit trans-fatty acids in all oils and fats to not more than 2% by January 2022. In the coming days we will work closely with the state government to accelerate the elimination of industrially produced trans fats in Punjab.”
Echoing the sentiment, Dr Eram Rao, Associate Professor, Delhi University said, “Replacing trans fats by healthier fats is possible. Many countries across the world have become trans fats free. Technologies such as full hydrogenation and interesterification can produce almost fats with minimal trans fats. There is little efforts required by food businesses or public.”
Indians are known to be at a high risk of cardiovascular disease. Initiatives like these sessions are helpful to target the population and create an awareness on the urgency of screening, bringing down the disease burden and thereby reduce the economic burden caused the morbidity and mortality due to non-communicable diseases.
Disha Foundation works with marginalised social groups on improving their access to health, food security, livelihood and education. It is working on creating awareness about various risks factors for CVD.
Generation Saviour Association works in public health with the vision that “A Nation will grow with Healthy Generation.” For more than two decades it has been working on issues like tobacco control, child obesity, healthy lifestyle etc.