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It’s time Indians take the risk of heart disease very, very seriously

Tim Marshall/Unsplash
A crisis at hand.
By Maria Thomas
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

More Indians are losing their lives to cardiovascular diseases than ever before, especially in the country’s wealthiest states.

In 2016, heart diseases were the biggest killer, accounting for 28.1% of all deaths in India, says a new report by the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Public Health Foundation of India, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Released on Nov. 14, the report used data from censuses, large-scale national household surveys, and the administrative records of health services, among other resources.

This reflects a significant change in India’s disease burden, long dominated by communicable or infectious diseases. While advancements in healthcare and growing awareness have helped reduce their incidence in recent years, heart disease, diabetes, and other non-communicable diseases are quickly taking their place as key causes of early deaths.

Here’s a list of the five deadliest diseases in 2016:

Cardiovascular diseases
Diarrhoea, lower respiratory, and other common infectious diseases
Chronic respiratory diseases
Diabetes, urogenital, blood, and endocrine diseases


In 2016, non-communicable diseases accounted for nearly 62% of all deaths, up from 37.9% in 1990, the report says. And while some states recorded a higher incidence of certain kinds of diseases, the results show that deaths caused by non-communicable diseases have increased across the board.

“The contribution of most of the major non-communicable disease groups to the total disease burden has increased all over India since 1990, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, mental health and neurological disorders, cancers, musculoskeletal disorders, and chronic kidney disease,” the report says.

Relatively wealthier states such as Kerala, Goa, and Tamil Nadu recorded the largest proportions of deaths caused by non-communicable diseases, compared to the poorer states of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh, where diarrhoeal diseases and lower respiratory infections still account for a significant proportion of deaths.

In 1990, the report says, only about a tenth of diseases were caused by risks such as an unhealthy diet, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol. By 2016, this had increased to a quarter of the total.

“The combination of these risks was highest in Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra in 2016, but importantly, the contribution of these risks has increased in every state of the country since 1990,” the report says.

Last year, the United Nations estimated that non-communicable diseases like diabetes and cancer could cost the Indian economy a staggering $6.2 trillion between 2012 and 2030. Of this, cardiovascular diseases alone were estimated to cost $2.25 trillion, emphasising the the need to promote awareness and healthier lifestyles.

While many Indians are gradually waking up to the importance of eating healthy—prompting soda and snack-makers such as PepsiCo and Nestle to make their products more nutritious—it will evidently take a lot more effort to create large-scale change. Besides unhealthy diets, a key culprit for non-communicable diseases is tobacco use, which reportedly accounted for 6% of India’s total disease burden in 2016. Bringing that down isn’t going to be easy either.

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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