We have weaker hearts than Americans

There is now statistical proof to say that urban Indian lifestyles are queering the pitch for the Indian heart. Born with thinner arteries and at genetic risk for cardiac diseases, Indians are worsening their risk for heart diseases with poor physical activity, a high-fat diet and by steadily shunning fruits and vegetables.

A study released at the World Congress of Cardiology in Dubai on Thursday said four of five Indians led an inactive life and about half were on a high-fat diet. Called the Indian Heart Watch (IHW) study, spanning 11 cities and covering 6,000 men and women, it was offered as the first-ever study on risk factors for heart diseases in India. "The study showed risk factors are now at higher levels in India than in developed countries and regions such as the US and western Europe,'' said the study's researchers.

Indian Heart Watch looked at three lifestyle factors - physical activity, diet and smoking - as well as biological factors like obesity, diabetes, high BP and cholesterol. "The study showed that risk factors are now at higher levels in India than in developed countries and regions such as the US and western Europe,'' said the study's researchers.

Cities, with their urban transport networks and fast-food joints, registered widespread physical inactivity. Even smaller towns had a higher incidence of smoking and low intake of fruits and vegetables. In sum, the research team comprising Jaipur-based cardiologist Rajeev Gupta, said improper urban social development was worsening cardiac risk factors among Indians. The Indian Heart Watch covered major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai as well as mid-sized towns such as Agra, Rohtak, etc.

Around 79% of men and 83% of women (who participated in the study) were found to be physically inactive, while 51% men and 48% women had high-fat diets. "About 60% men and 57% women were found to have a low intake of fruit and vegetables, while 12% men and 0.5% women smoke,'' the study said. Around 41% of men and 45% of women were overweight or obese. High blood pressure was reported in 33% men and 30% women, while high cholesterol was found in one-quarter of all men and women. Diabetes was also reported in 34% men and 37% women.

One of the authors, Prakash Deedwania from the University of California, told the Dubai gathering that India had the dubious distinction of being known as the coronary and diabetes capital of the world. His co-author, Dr Gupta said, "These results show that improving urban planning and overall living conditions are critical to the curb the cardio-vascular disease epidemic in India."

Mumbai's JJ Hospital's head of cardiology, Dr N O Bansal, said that while urban Indians were guilty of low physical activity levels, the Indian diet is far from high on fat content. "Indians largely have a mixed diet of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food that is freshly cooked. We don't eat straight from the cold storage or microwave like Americans,'' he said, adding that the fat content in desi food is not high in comparison to the West.

"Indians have to remember that French fries are useless. Having a 200ml of packaged orange juice is equal to having six teaspoons of sugar and is useless,'' said Dr Bansal. "We should take up yoga and regular exercises-almost 20 minutes per day, five times a week. We should also ensure that our diet contains colourful fruits and vegetables that have bio-flavonoids,'' he said, adding that one should have 300ml of skimmed milk for calcium every day.

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