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Growth of India's Consumer Class Brings Health Challenges
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Over the next decade, India’s burgeoning consumer class is likely headed for an onslaught of chronic diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. A new report from the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that the proportion of deaths nationwide from long-term maladies will skyrocket from 53 percent in 2005 to nearly 67 percent by 2020. Diets high in fats and sugars and a lack of exercise—two lifestyle trends that increasingly afflict people in developing countries—are major factors behind the rise in certain chronic diseases, according to medical experts.

As more Indians reach or exceed an income level roughly equivalent to the official poverty line in Western Europe, the nation’s consumer class has adopted consumption patterns, lifestyles, and even diseases similar to their industrial-country counterparts. Rapidly developing economies like India are now struggling with the twin challenges of struggling to feed their populations while also dealing with a growing epidemic of obesity. The problem currently afflicts more than 300 million people worldwide, according to the Worldwatch Institute’s Vital Signs report, and can lead to chronic ailments such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes.

India is now home to the largest population of diabetics in the world, at 30 million, and that number is expected to grow to 57 million by 2025. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report suggests that preventative actions are more effective at combating the disease than treatment after the fact. Changing people’s eating patterns can be one important step. “As food choices change in the developing world, educating consumers about the potential risks of fast food and other sugar-rich, high-fat foods is more important than ever,” notes Danielle Nierenberg, a food and agriculture specialist at Worldwatch.

Incorporating exercise into daily life is another challenge for an increasingly urbanized population. India is already home to at least three megacities—urban agglomerations of 10 million people or more—and more residents are entering the formal workforce, where jobs tend to be more sedentary than in the informal economy. Some companies around the world are taking a proactive approach to the problem. For example, Sprint's headquarters in the United States operates slow elevators to encourage the use of stairs, and the parking lot is a good distance from the offices to promote daily walks.

This story was written by Alana Herro for Eye on Earth (e2), a service of World Watch Magazine in partnership with the blue moon fund. e2 provides a unique perspective on current events, newly released studies, and important global trends.

Image: Shoppers in Jaipur. Credit: flickr/dlisbona

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