By Idris Adewale Ahmed
Everyone seems to crave a healthy life, but not everyone knows how to get it.
It is no longer news that the trend in the major cause of death worldwide has shifted from communicable (infectious) diseases to non-communicable (chronic) diseases.
The leading examples of chronic diseases are heart disease, cancer, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and diabetes.
Unfortunately, non-communicable diseases are silent diseases, therefore there are always high proportions of individuals with undiagnosed risk factors.
Chronic diseases impose substantial and grave economic burdens, not only on households but also the economy.
While not disputing the contribution of our genetic make-up and other environmental factors to this menace, our lifestyle is significantly responsible as the main culprit.
The risks of chronic diseases increase with age. It is worthy to note that children are not exempted, but rather vulnerable to the risk of chronic diseases.
Though we cannot change our age, sex or race, the good news is that lifestyle factors are generally modifiable, meaning that we can change or modify our lifestyles for a better life, and more importantly, reduce the relative and absolute risks associated with chronic diseases.
Paradoxically, lifestyle modification and adherence to the recommended lifestyle changes are difficult. It is always easier said than done.
The reason is simply that most people have become addicted to unhealthy lifestyles such as smoking, alcohol consumption, sedentary behaviour as well as bad dietary habits like consumption of high-cholesterol and high-fructose diets, to mention but a few.
Research and health reports, globally and locally, are consistently consentient to the fact that the panacea and cornerstones of chronic disease prevention and management are healthy lifestyles such as weight management, healthy diet and exercise.
I would like to quote Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who said, “Malaysians in general have yet to practise a healthy lifestyle.”
He added, “Only 40% of Malaysians adopt a healthy lifestyle by making sports a culture.”
Chronic diseases in Malaysia
In Malaysia, like in other developing and industrialised nations, the prevalence of chronic diseases and their risk factors are on the rise.
According to the 2015 report of the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS), chronic diseases contribute about 73% of total deaths in Malaysia.
Alarmingly, about 35% of these deaths occur among the working population, specifically in individuals under 60.
The report also emphasised major risk factors which include, but are not limited to, overweight/obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high blood cholesterol.
It is more alarming to know that Malaysia now has a “sick” or “at risk” population, the report said.
According to the survey, the overall prevalence of the three major chronic disease risk factors remains high. High blood sugar (diabetes) and high blood cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) continue to increase in Malaysia, while high blood pressure (hypertension) shows a decrease, compared to previous years:
- Diabetes – increased from 11.6% (2006), 15.2% (2011) to 17.5% (2015).
- Hypertension in adults above 30 years old – increased from 32.2% (2006) to 32.7% (2011) but decreased to 30.3% (2015).
- Hypercholesterolemia – increased from 20.7% (2006), 32.6% (2011) to 47.7% (2015).
In my opinion, the significance of and dire need to adopt healthy lifestyle choices in the management and prevention of chronic diseases can never be overemphasised.
The awareness, promotion and support should instead be accelerated using all possible means, including social media.
Encouraging and supporting our family members, friends and colleagues at work, schools or neighbourhoods would go a long way to sensitising the community and addressing the situation.
In addition, I suggest that we make it a habit to monitor our health status through health screening at least once a year, eat not only good but the right food, avoid sedentary behaviour and adopt regular exercise, avoid excessive stress, get enough rest and sound sleep after work, and more importantly, avoid smoking and alcohol consumption
Idris Adewale Ahmed is a lecturer at the Department of Biotechnology, Faculty of Science, Lincoln University College.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.