Punjabis world’s unhealthiest people?

By Dr. Sawraj Singh

I have had the opportunity to visit many countries and regions of the world.  I lived in America for more than forty years. America is like a miniature version of the world. There are communities from every country and region living in America. Therefore, I had opportunities to interact with almost all different communities. Every year, we hosted Diversity Day. Hundreds of people belonging to different communities came to our farmhouse. From this extensive interaction with diverse communities, I got the impression that Punjabis are one of the unhealthiest people in the world.

Wherever comparative studies have been done, my impressions were validated. Even though these studies did not particularly single out the Punjabis, a study done in Canada and England on the Indian population has to include more Punjabis than people from any other state in India. Moreover, my impression is that Punjabis are in much poorer health than the people of other Indian states. For example, at an average Punjabi party, more alcohol and food is consumed per person than in any other party of people of non-Punjabi origin. The same is true in the marriage palaces in Punjab. The Punjabis are setting new records in alcohol and food consumption, and wastage of food. In a poor country like India, where many people do not have enough to eat, you can see huge piles of wasted food outside many marriage palaces.

Now, the results of a study have just been released which prove that most of my impressions were correct. A study jointly done by the medical colleges of Punjab and the PGI Chandigarh proves beyond any doubt that not only Punjabis are the unhealthiest people in India, but they can also compete for the Olympic gold medal for the title of the unhealthiest people in the world. The enthusiasm that Punjabis have shown for adopting western consumer culture, and abandoning the traditional wisdom and the path of moderation and contentment shown by the Gurus, is almost unparalleled in history. However, they are very dearly paying the price for such a feat.

The health and healthy lifestyle have become the biggest victims of the consumerism of Punjabis:

  • 14% of Punjabis have become diabetic, compared to the national average of 8%. An equal number are pre-diabetics.
  • 40% of Punjabis are obese, with an incidence of abdominal obesity which is even much higher: 57.2%.
  • 44% of Punjabis suffer from hypertension.
  • 92.3% of Punjabis have dyslipidemia (higher and abnormal fats in their blood).
  • 12.5% (one in eight) of Punjabis contracts cancer.
  • The Punjabis have a very unhealthy lifestyle:
  • 33% (one-third) of Punjabis are sedentary and do not take any exercise.
  • 95.9% do not eat enough fruit and vegetables.
  • 87% consume more than 5 grams of salt a day, higher than the recommended daily upper limit.
  • Alcohol consumption is at an all-time high.

The Punjabis’ unhealthy lifestyle was striking. The study identified six risk factors for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs):

  • Low fruit and vegetable intake
  • Low physical activity
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol intake

Only 1% of Punjabis are free from all of the risk factors. In other words, 99% of Punjabis cannot really be called healthy. If these statistics do not qualify us for the Olympic gold medal, then at least they will bring us very close. Even though this study is confined to Punjab, I feel that the Punjabis outside Punjab and in other countries are not very different from this.

This study and other studies done in other countries such as Canada, U.K. and America are limited to physical health. My impression is that Punjabis have equally bad, if not worse, mental health. My own observations and from talking to many psychiatrists and other mental health workers, I have concluded that the incidence of anxiety and depression is very high in Punjabis. For example, Punjab seems to have a much higher rate of farmer suicide than the neighbouring state of Haryana. I feel that increased mental stress is responsible for divorces and broken marriages. The incidence of these seems much higher than in the neighbouring states.

I feel the main reason for the poor health of Punjabis is the adopting of a lifestyle which is contrary to the one in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Moderation, contentment and living in harmony with nature to fulfill one’s needs, instead of running after desires, were the main components of a healthy lifestyle. However, Punjabis have moved away from their traditional lifestyle, culture and value system, and have become the most ardent followers and advocates of western capitalist consumer culture, which promotes exactly the opposite lifestyle of selfishness, greed, arrogance and extravagance. No wonder, they are paying a heavy price for this.

Even in the neighbouring state Haryana, people are closer to their traditional lifestyle than the Punjabis. I feel that they are much healthier than Punjabis. One way to prove or disprove this contention is to conduct a comparative study of the health of the leading communities in these states, Jats of Haryana and Jats of Punjab. My prediction is that the Jats of Haryana are much healthier than the Jats of Punjab. This study should be very convincing as to what has gone wrong with Punjabis because both of these communities are genetically almost identical, and their social and economical conditions are very similar.

Therefore, the difference can be attributed to the fact that the Jats of Haryana have not given up their traditional lifestyle, culture and values to the extent that the Jats of Punjab have.

Sawraj Singh M.D. F.I.C.S.

Chairman, Washington State Network for Human Rights

Chairman, Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice

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