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Transforming Eating Habits of Gen X: How Rising Concerns over Diabetes, Obesity, and Heart Diseases Are Shaping Food Choices

Gen X, the generation born between 1965 and 1980, once enthusiastically queued up to indulge in fast food. However, there seems to be a shift in their mindset now, as growing concerns regarding diabetes, obesity, and heart diseases are prompting them to reconsider their food choices. The prevalence of modern-day diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes has become a major health issue in India. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 61% of all deaths in the country are attributed to these diseases. The number of diabetes cases has risen from around 41 million in 2007 to about 72 million in 2017, while the incidence of heart disease has seen a worrisome increase, with the number of deaths due to heart attacks jumping from 18,000 in 2015 to over 28,000 in 2021.

However, there is hope for positive change, driven by Gen X. Recent surveys indicate that nearly half of the urban middle-class population in India has altered their diets in an effort to prevent lifestyle diseases. A study conducted by The Indian Dietetic Association (IDA), Mumbai Chapter, in collaboration with Country Delight, revealed that digestive health plays a crucial role in the development of lifestyle diseases. Dietary preferences significantly impact overall health, and changes in diet can contribute to the prevalence of such diseases.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Safala Mahadik RD, CDE, Senior Dietitian at KEM Hospital in Mumbai, highlighted the shift from traditional Indian food habits, which were rich in fiber and essential nutrients, to a gradual increase in processed and fast foods. This transition has led to a dangerous combination of high-fat and low-fiber intake among many Indians, resulting in an imbalance in gut microbiota and subsequent inflammation and health issues.

Fortunately, there is a growing awareness among people about the connection between dietary preferences and disease. According to a survey conducted by Country Delight in collaboration with IDA Mumbai, approximately 80% of individuals believe that digestive issues can lead to long-term lifestyle diseases. The survey also revealed that 7 out of every 10 people suffer from some form of digestive medical condition, such as acidity or heartburn, with 59% experiencing these conditions weekly and 12% daily.

Safala Mahadik pointed out that marketing campaigns by large corporations and food companies may be one reason for the shift in people's food habits, transitioning from fiber-rich to fat-rich diets. Interestingly, over 50% of respondents are aware that junk food or chemically processed food can lead to gut health problems, yet a staggering number of people still choose some form of junk or processed packaged food every week, with 19% consuming it daily, as indicated by the survey.

Cautioning against poor dietary patterns, Safala Mahadik emphasized that they can contribute to various health issues, including obesity and other diseases. Sugary drinks and high-fat foods, which are common components of unhealthy diets, can lead to obesity—a significant risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. The survey results revealed that of those who consume junk or processed food every week, about 68% suffer from gastric issues, a significantly higher percentage compared to those who consume such food items less frequently.

To prevent lifestyle diseases, it is crucial to reduce the intake of processed foods and chemically-laden food items. It is also important to limit the consumption of cholesterol and saturated fats, as they can have detrimental effects on health. Encouragingly, 6 out of every 10 people recognize that their diet plays a vital role in preventing lifestyle diseases, leading to recent dietary modifications. Approximately 67% of survey respondents expressed a preference for chemically-free natural food items in their daily diet. Individuals in the age group of 35-44 years, as well as many women, exhibited a higher inclination towards food items with fewer preservatives, high nutritional value, longer shelf life, and farm-fresh produce. The emerging top purchase drivers in the country include chemical-free foods, followed by ingredients and nutritive value, signaling a positive trend towards healthier choices.

Creating awareness about the impact of food choices on health can contribute to reducing healthcare costs in the country. Lifestyle diseases impose a significant burden on financial resources and healthcare infrastructure. Safala Mahadik emphasized the need to regulate the marketing campaigns of brands that promote chemically-laden junk food. Policy-level support should be provided to create an environment where natural food items receive more attention from consumers. Such measures would contribute to a healthier India and enable the nation to benefit from being the youngest country in the world—the demographic dividend.

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