Sedentary lifestyle and bad eating habits are taking their toll.

Stress, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy food and being overweight are pushing up the numbers of high blood pressure patients in urban and rural districts of Madurai, in South India. Blood pressure levels are soaring across all age groups, amongst the rich and poor, and in both men and women causing heart specialists, physicians and dieticians there to regard high blood pressure as “the harbinger of ailments in the future.”

Diet experts suggest that prevention must start early. They are also concerned with the number of families eating out these days as opposed to eating healthy, home food ― a global tendency. Another factor is “erratic eating,” which causes high blood pressure at a young age. They also attribute high blood pressure in many post-menopausal women to physiological changes.

So dire is the situation in Madurai that a project has been established exclusively for the screening and prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as hypertension. Of the 32,707 patients screened by last month, 3,412 were diagnosed as “confirmed hypertension patients.” June screenings found that 2,773 out of 25,562 patients had hypertension. The doctors say that if private hospitals, clinics and blood test laboratories are taken into account, the actual number of patients would shoot up.

Dr. S. Natarajan, district coordinator of project stressed that “the cases detected are all new. So you can imagine the gravity of the situation. People aged above 30 are being screened through this programme, which is carried out by the State government with World Bank support.”

The project coordinators are pushing for regular blood pressure checks to avoid long-term damage such as kidney complications. According to Dr. Natarajan, “to undertake mass screening, a separate out-patient facility for conducting BP tests, and for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer, has been started in all government hospitals and primary health centres.”

The data being collected by the NCD prevention team includes education, occupation, monthly family income, habits, diet, edible oil used at home, physical activity level and more. Dr. Natarajan says the report will be submitted to the Tamil Nadu Health Systems Project so that they can make “the right public health intervention.”

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