EVENT This year’s edition of the Youth Health Mela will be held from January 24 to 27 at Valluvar Kottam in the city
This might be India’s corollary to the ‘slow food’ movement that has captured the imagination of millions of youngsters and adults in the West. But then, Youth Health Mela (YHM) goes beyond the culinary perspective, looking at vibrant and holistic health or rather lifestyle in its entirety.
A youth health movement might slowly be taking shape in the city and beyond, triggered by the inaugural edition of the YHM last year, which saw the participation of more than 10,000 youngsters. This year’s edition will be held from January 24 to 27 at Valluvar Kottam in the city, with 60 interactive stalls that demonstrate the impact of food and lifestyle choices on the human body and the alternatives available, cultural events and competitions, meet-the-expert workshops, discussions and presentations on health, and of course, a food court. YHM is also a platform to initiate urgent policy changes and interventions in the health spectrum at all levels to promote the well-being of youth in the present and the future.
Perhaps, the biggest challenge before Indian youth is staying clear of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, cardio vascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, besides threats to productivity and quality of life posed by road accidents and substance abuse. In 2005, India had the highest loss in potentially productive years (9.2 million years of life) in the 35-64 year age group. If the trend continues, by 2030, the productivity loss is estimated to be nearly 10 times more than the corresponding productivity loss in the U.S. NCDs are brought on by the choices we make in our lives such as the food we eat, the harmful material we use in everyday life, tobacco and alcohol, reduced physical activity and environmental pollution. “People start exercising and getting sensitive about lifestyle choices once they hit the late thirties. But the disease has been invited long ago (right from birth) by lifestyle factors,” points out Dr. S. Vidhubala, psycho-oncologist at Cancer Institute (WIA) and event secretary of Youth Health Mela.
Making informed choices
What makes YHM click with Generation Next is because it showcases scientific evidence, and celebrates health. It is about facilitating informed choices. “Going by last year’s response to YHM, I foresee a whole new generation emerging that doesn’t fritter away its health, a generation that is sharp enough not to get swayed by market forces and fads when provided with information and choices,” says one of the organizers of YHM, Dr. M. B. Aswath Narayanan, Professor and Head, Public Health Dentistry, Government Dental College and Hospital, Chennai. “In India, where the youth population exceeds the elderly, we can show our youth the way to positive health so that the country will have a powerful human resource in the years to come,” says another YHM coordinator, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Ismail, founder of Ecoscience Research Foundation. YHM took shape when several like-minded individuals and organisations that have been interfacing with the youth got together and decided to restore the health of the country. In a sense, it is the older generation that is responsible for the country’s health deficit. As parents, policy makers, administrators and industrialists, we have introduced harmful habits to our children, from instant noodles with its wax that impacts the entire digestive system, spicy puffed snacks and cheese balls that contain plastic, foods containing harmful preservatives and pesticides, liquidators that have enough poison to kill insects instantly, non-stick cookware, practices like serving hot drinks and foods in thermocol, and plastic containers that leach chemicals, a lack of stress on physical activity, etc. But, from now on, we might realise that a healthy lifestyle is the ‘cool’ way to be.