Doctors report a rapid increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among poor people. Stressing that the increasing burden be addressed immediately, they added that referring to these as a rich man's disease is a myth.
Health experts say the causes for a rise in lifestyle ailments -- diabetes, hypertension and heart disease -- amongst the poor are more or less similar to those affecting the rich and middle-class, but in a different context.
"We think lifestyle diseases are associated only with upper or upper-middle class, but it is not so. Majority of people from the economically weaker sections eat junk food. Most of it is cooked in unhygienic conditions, but easily accessible and affordable. However, after a point of time, it leads to chronic heart ailments," Deep Goel, director, bariatric surgery, BLK Super Speciality Hospital, told IANS.
"Most of these people consume more of carbohydrates, are obese but malnourished, and always deprived of key nutrients. In the past 10 years, cases of heart ailments in the economically weaker sections has almost doubled," he added.
A recent study by a team of researchers from the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and other leading international universities, pointed that majority of the NCDs are largely prevalent among the poor.
"We are a group of researchers who have cross-studied the data collected by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2007 for its Study on Global Ageing and Adult Health. We studied the WHO's data of 12,0000 individuals from six states which reported on five NCDs - angina, hypertension, chronic lung diseases and asthma, vision problems and depression," Sukumar Vellakkal, health economist, PHFI told IANS.
The study pointed out that lifestyle diseases, largely prevalent among the economically weaker sections, are under-diagnosed or under-reported.
"The economically backward people, living in places with poor medical and health facilities, fail to perceive and report the presence of illness, and also do not seek health care." So, the true prevalence of several diseases from the poor had been underestimated.
"Poor or delayed access to health care by poor further worsen their condition leading to premature death, disability and loss of income. Therefore, identification and early treatment of NCDs is important for effective development policy," Vellakkal added.
The doctors also say that lifestyle disease are inflicted on economically backward sections due to poverty.
"There is an urgent need to make people from poor background understand the risk factors of NCDs. We have not focused sufficiently on the extreme poor. The health ministry must start special screening, treatment programmes and overall assessment of NCDs among economically weaker sections," Ajay Goel, a diabetologist, added.
The study also indicated that rates of NCDs are projected to increase dramatically in India and other low-and-middle income countries over the next two decades. The study projected millions of deaths and huge loss of national income due to lost production and health care costs.
Researchers from PHFI, Imperial College London, Harvard University, Stanford University, Oxford University and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine conducted the study.