India’s greatest national treasure is its youth. We have the largest youth population in the world that is poised to increase further in the coming decade. Every third person here is a youth and set to experience a dynamic transformation as the population burden of the past turns into a demographic dividend. Youth constitutes nearly 40% of the total population of India. This group which is the most vibrant and dynamic segment of the country’s population constitutes its most valuable human resource. To optimally tap their constructive and creative energies, there is a need to provide them – Right Health & Nutrition, Right Education, Right Value System, and Right Linkages.
Our country is fraught with social, cultural, political, and environmental challenges. This scenario is an opportunity for societies to transform their health & nutrition and create a more sustainable and equitable present and future. In this context, the health of youth is of critical importance, as young people are the most important building blocks of society.
Although India has made tremendous advances in science, medicine, information technology, and many other fields, and has experienced unprecedented economic growth over the past decade, the youth are facing a looming epidemic of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs). NCD amongst young is a significant public health problem. NCDs are especially important for young people, now and in the future, which is clear by the fact that 6 out of 9 Global Targets for NCDs 2025 include young people.
NCDs are among the biggest public health challenges of the 21st century. The social and economic impacts of NCDs are posing a threat to progress towards sustainable development. It is important for youth to understand NCDs and their risk factors. Most of the NCD risk factors are behaviourally acquired which are due to change in lifestyles during adolescence. Two-thirds of premature deaths in adults are associated with childhood conditions or behaviors initiated in youth: over 150 million young people smoke; 81% of adolescents don’t get enough physical activity; 11.7% of adolescents partake in heavy episodic drinking and 41 million children under the age of 5 years are overweight or obese. Two-third of premature deaths in adults are caused by behaviors initiated at a young age.
Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders and the carers will bear the brunt of these lifestyle choices, both financially and personally. Therefore, youth everywhere have a vested interest in NCD prevention. Young people have the capacity to add value to solutions for NCDs. As the emerging ‘New Power’, young citizens today are more empowered and enthused to participate in shaping their everyday lives, including making the right health choices. Youth have a right to the highest attainable standard of health and well-being.
Our youth are often targeted by companies advertising unhealthy food, tobacco, or alcohol use, and many grow up today in environments that are not favorable to adopting healthy lifestyles, such as participating in sports and balanced and healthy diets. Market forces promote junk foods, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), tobacco, and alcohol. There are four broad pillars to address NCD amongst youth –
- Regular and excessive consumption of foods high in salt, sugar, and fat leads to obesity and is a risk factor for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart diseases.
- Physical fitness is not just the most important factor in a healthy body, it is the very basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.
- Mental stress has a major influence on our mood, our sense of well-being, behavior, and health. Chronic stress is linked to poor health coupled with an increase in smoking, substance abuse, accidents, sleep disorders, and eating disorders.
- Maintaining a balanced diet is essential for proper growth and development, and to remain active. A balanced diet is a wholesome diet that provides adequate proportions of essential nutrients from all food groups (carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water) necessary to maintain good health. It provides an adequate intake of both macronutrients and micronutrients, proper regulation of metabolic processes, and maintenance of an optimal body mass.
Tips to achieve balanced diets- ‘Eat Healthy’ and Eat Safe’ to engage, excite, and enable our youth to improve their health and well-being.
- Eat a wide variety of foods to ensure a balanced diet.
- Include differently colored, seasonal vegetables, and fruits in your diet.
- Eat foods made with whole grains like whole-wheat bread, millets, and brown rice.
- Include low-fat dairy products in the diet.
- Ensure moderate use of edible oils and animal foods, limit the use of ghee/ butter, and avoid Vanaspati/margarine/shortenings.
- Limit the consumption of processed grains including foods made with white flour (Maida) etc.
- Minimize the use of processed foods rich in fats, sugar, and salt (avoid trans fats).
- Avoid overeating to prevent overweight and obesity.
- Drink plenty of water and take beverages in moderation.
- Exercise regularly and be physically active to maintain ideal body weight.
- Ensure the use of safe and clean foods.
We cannot afford to neglect their well-being and allow our youth to face Noncommunicable diseases. The cost of NCD to our youth in terms of health, productivity, and economic development is tremendous. To reduce the impact of NCDs, the next generation needs to be involved in recognizing and changing the conditions that favor these diseases.
The author of this article is Dr. Sujeet Ranjan, Executive Director, The Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security, New Delhi.
A Brief Profile of Dr. Sujeet Ranjan
Dr. Sujeet Ranjan has been associated with the public health sector for more than two decades. His experience includes large scale program management, policy advocacy, and partnership management.
Dr. Ranjan is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security (CFNS) – a comprehensive platform to raise awareness, foster collaboration, and advocate for improved programs to achieve sustainable food and nutrition security in India.
Prior to CFNS, Dr. Ranjan has worked as Director, CARE India, and also served at the Swasthya Management and Research Institute and Magic Bus Foundation of India as the Chief Operating Officer.
He has a (Ph.D.) in Public Health and has also undergone International Fellowship Programme on Visionary Leadership. Dr. Ranjan has also undertaken the International Fellowship on Leadership at the Centre for African Family Studies (CAFS), Nairobi, Kenya, and with the NFPCB, Government of Indonesia, Jakarta.