“If we take tobacco out of the picture, 40 per cent of cancers will go away,” said cancer specialist and chairman, Adyar Cancer Institute, V. Shanta. Getting rid of tobacco is a bigger boon than abolishing nuclear warfare threat, she said and that the hazards of tobacco consumption were equal to nuclear hazards.

At the inauguration of the youth health mela, the Ramon Magsaysay award recipient said the mela was an educational programme rooted in the context of today’s lifestyle and environmental changes. “While developing nations have brought down communicable diseases, India is neither here nor there. Communicable diseases have been only partially conquered while non-communicable diseases are on the rise,” she observed, listing cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as lifestyle related disorders.

While government efforts towards communicable disease in the form of vaccination have been stepped up, much remains to be done in the case of non-communicable diseases, she said. Dr. Shanta said open defecation and stagnant water are major risk factors for communicable diseases like malaria. She cautioned that while tobacco increased risks of diseases, alcohol multiplies it manifold.

The three day mela concluding on Saturday features symposiums, stalls and contests designed around four key - substance abuse, nutrition and diet, fitness and exercise, personal and environmental hygiene.

With India boasting of the world’s largest productive young population that was expected to propel the nation on the growth trajectory, prioritising health of youth was important, said Collector, Jayashree Muralidharan. It is necessary to look back at traditional food if we are to change India’s status form the diabetic capital of the world to the health capital of the world, she said.

Today any task involving physical labour is looked down with contempt, a reason for inclination towards a sedentary lifestyle that triggered lifestyle-related diseases, she observed. Citing an example from the collectorate where serving of coffee and tea during meetings has been replaced by drinks made of ragi, she underlined the need to replace carbonated drinks, highly polished rice and junk food with whole grains.

Arun Seschalam, organising secretary, dubbing the Youth Health Mela as a festival with a focus on celebrating health, said it would be an annual fixture.

The initiative was requisite as productive years of youth are lost due to non-communicable diseases.

The event was extended to Tiruchi, the first city outside Chennai, he added. V.Jaypal, chairman, GVN Hospital, and president of Youth Health Mela, said the event targeted youth to bring about healthy lifestyle changes early in life. M. Chenniappan, senior cardiologist and vice-president, YHM, spoke.