Talking about diabetes and heart disease to young people need not be in obscure medical terms, but can take a fun route

This would certainly count among the last things one would expect to find behind a classroom door! Stepping into a corner room on the first floor of the K.A.P.Viswanatham Higher Secondary School, is guaranteed to make every visitor do a double take.

With corks strewn across the floor, empty bottles lined against the walls, a meshed counter behind which stand rows and rows of glass bottles, unpretentious benches arranged to indicate a bar, the entire space is a replica of a TASMAC store. A larger-than-life price list that announces ‘buy one, get one free’ draws a crowd. A closer look reveals that against gin, vodka, brandy and the rest are imprinted the free items - hallucinations, accidents, bile duct cancer and so on. The simulation so real till the ‘diseases for sale’ printed across in bold acts as a reminder as to what brought you to the event. The Youth Health Mela, a maiden initiative to educate youth- school and college students, young professionals on life-style related disorders is to become an annual fixture in Tiruchi city.

After an enthusiastic response in what was a five-day affair in Chennai, the mela has spread its roots to the city. Educational institutions, health associations, government and non-government agencies have been roped in to set up stalls that educate youth on lifestyle related disorders.

First step

While the mela seeks to engage youth in discussing health disorders like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, the challenge lies in convincing a young audience to take diseases they dismiss as part of a distant future, seriously. How does one talk about hygiene, addiction and diet without making it sound like a lecture that is soon forgotten?

For an initiative hitting at young impressionable minds, a placard saying ‘Drinking is dangerous’ may evaporate in a second. But the message in a witty, humorous take has school and college students pausing to examine each bottle with its label of contents and the disease it sells. Similarly charts and cut-outs may not create a stir, but caricatures, illuminations, graphical representations break down the complexities behind tuberculosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, while simultaneously enforcing road safety measures and hazards of overuse of electronic gadgets like television, cell phones and music players.

India has the highest loss of potentially productive years of life says Arun Seschalam, organizing secretary of the mela. Owing to non-communicable diseases which are a consequence of lifestyle changes – addictive substances, drinking, smoking, aping western foods, sedentary lifestyle and lack of hygiene. The mela hopes to urge the young generation to take the first step in staying healthy, in saying no to tobacco and junk food, saying yes to exercise and personal hygiene.

They may not get the larger picture immediately, but in small ways there are lessons taken back home. A group of girls stands around a tall pyramid decked with fruits and vegetables in eye-catching colours at the wide bottom rungs and frowning at the butter and chips on the narrow top shelf. A school boy curious about asthma gets to know the triggering factors by touching each of them on display- mosquito coil, cotton roll, hibiscus pollen.

The Hindu is the print media partner of the Youth Health Mela. The mela concludes on Saturday evening.