ISLAMABAD: Over 40pc of children aged five and below in Pakistan are stunted whereas 2.5 million children are “severely wasted” — acutely malnourished — according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Pakistan was one of the first countries to adopt the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to achieve a 40pc reduction in childhood stunting and maintain childhood “wasting” below 5pc. However, little progress has been made towards achieving these targets.

Around 6-8pc of school-going children below 10 years of age were obese or overweight due to sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets, Dr Palitha Mahipala, WHO’s representative to Pakistan said during a conference on Thursday. “Our lifestyle has been changed in recent years and due to that we are seeing more and more Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).”

Speaking at the 3rd International Lifestyle Medical Conference 2022’, organised by Riphah International University (RIU), Dr Mahipala said that promoting physical inactivity and other healthy lifestyle practices were needed to reduce the disease burden in Pakistan.

50pc of women are either obese or overweight while remaining face issues like malnutrition

Citing the WHO’s global status report on physical activity, Dr Palitha Mahipala said almost 500 million people will develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes, or other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) attributable to physical inactivity by the end of 2030, costing $27 billion annually, if governments don’t take urgent action to encourage more physical activity among their populations.

“Annually 55 million deaths occur across the globe, of which 41 million or 70pc of deaths take place due to non-communicable diseases, which are actually lifestyle diseases. Of them, only cardiovascular disease caused 17.5 million deaths globally. The leading risk factor for this lifestyle disease is smoking, followed by an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity,” Dr Mahipala said.

He further said that around 50 percent of women were either obese or overweight in Pakistan while the remaining were facing issues like malnutrition as he called for spending more on lifestyle medicine, health promotion and prevention from diseases.

Dr Mahipala said that smoking was a big concern as 100 million people died due to smoking over the past century, adding that it was feared that around one billion people would be killed due to smoking in the current century.

‘Life expectancy’

Chancellor of the Riphah International University (RIU) Islamabad Hassan Muhammad Khan while citing a study by Shaikh Zayed Hospital Lahore, said that life expectancy in Lahore is eight years lesser than in Islamabad due to environmental pollution and urged the authorities and people to take measures for reducing environmental pollution to live a disease-free life.

“Medical care has become unaffordable for even the largest economies of the world and now they are launching lifestyle and preventive medicine programmes to reduce the disease burden,” Mr Khan added.

Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), including cancer, are constantly on the rise and one of the reasons is an increase in environmental pollution. “Environmental pollution is linked to reduced life expectancy all over the world, including Pakistan,” Mr Khan added.

He urged the authorities and the health fraternity in Pakistan to work jointly for the prevention of diseases by promoting lifestyle medicine, saying these days no government can afford to bear the healthcare expenses, which are constantly on the rise.

Dr Shagufta Feroz, a lifestyle medicine specialist who operates a drug-free clinic for the last 17 years, said a healthy diet, physical activity, stress reduction and rest, and refraining from addictive substances are the main pillars of lifestyle medicine.

Syed Jamshed Ahmed, former vice chancellor of the Riphah University Islamabad, Prof Anis Ahmed, Dr Regan Stiegman, Ahsan Zafar Bakhtawari, Dr Mobashir Bhatti, Khawaja Mazhar Iqbal and others also spoke at the moot.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2022

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