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Is Kerala becoming a land of 'unhealthy' people?

Number of unhealthy people with lifestyle diseases remains high in state

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In the recently published Social Progress Index (SPI) for states and districts, Kerala fared relatively well by earning the ninth position in the overall rank list. The state outperformed the national average in terms of basic human needs—which had subcategories of nutrition and basic medical care, water and sanitation and shelter. It performed at an average level in foundations of well being—which include subcategories ‘access to basic knowledge', ‘access to information and communication’ and ‘health and wellness’—and opportunity, which include subcategories personal rights, personal freedom and choice and inclusiveness. 

Interestingly, the state did a stellar performance in ‘nutrition and basic medical care’ scoring 67.68. However, it scored very poor in ‘health and wellness’ (score is 34.4). Kerala’s decent performances under the heads of anaemic women, anaemic children, children with stunted growth, child mortality rate and ‘children receiving an adequate diet’ helped the state to be the top performer in ‘nutrition and basic medical care’. 

However, the high number of obese men and women with lifestyle diseases made it one of the lowest performers in ‘health and wellness’. The state scored acutely low scores in categories like men and women with elevated blood sugar levels, women with elevated blood pressure and women who are obese or overweight. The men who are obese or who have elevated blood pressure are also high in number. However, their number is in the expected range. The National Family Health Survey for 2019-20 also said that Kerala's obesity rate surpasses the national average. The survey found that 38.1 per cent of women and 36.4 per cent of men from Kerala in the age group of 15 to 49 years were obese. Kerala was the first state in the country to introduce a 'fat tax' on pizzas, burgers and other 'unhealthy' foods served in branded restaurants to disincentivize consumption. It was also one of the first states in India to adopt the National Program for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke (NPCDCS). However, the SPI survey suggests that the number of unhealthy people with lifestyle diseases remains high in the state.

Kerala is a state that consistently performs well in human development indices. However, the SPI score suggests that it is an underperformer in terms of protecting its weaker sections. In the category of inclusiveness, it is among red-marked underperformers. The state performed poorly in terms of stopping violence against people from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The state earned a poor score of 10.14 in terms of enrolment of SC and ST.

Men and women who completed secondary education are high in the state. However, the states underperformed in terms of gender parity in higher education, too. Another crucial segment in which the state underperformed was the pupil-teacher ratio. 


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