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Health crisis in the Tamil community? - Shivonne Surace-

 

Health crisis in the Tamil community? - Shivonne Surace-

 

Health crisis in the Tamil community?

Due to genetic and environmental factors, it is common in the Tamil community to be extra susceptible to a range of health issues. Despite genetics, some health professionals believe cultural norms are partly to blame for our increased risks. 

Instances of heart disease are four times higher and strike 10-15 years earlier in South Asian patients while instances of diabetes are six times higher than the rest of the UK population. Risks of thyroid disease, breast cancer and vitamin D deficiency are also more common.

Kingston hospital pharmacist, Jane Jananee says: ‘These figures are not surprising because high-carbohydrate South Asian foods combined with the excessive junk food available in the West can be very damaging to health.’

According to Dr. Anthony Thayaparan of Great Western Hospital, a lack of openness in the Tamil community is a key part of developing health risks.

He says a lack of willingness to try out different forms of exercise often starts early with young children being discouraged from attending after-school clubs for example, as Tamil families tend to be more protective.

Dr. Thayaparan says: “Some people are stuck in their ways and follow traditions from home which can be a good thing but it means they are often more secluded and less willing to experiment with diet and exercise.”

Tamils facing possible health issues are encouraged to engage with forms of exercise that may be familiar, for example attending a Bollywood dance class is an ideal way of beginning to incorporate exercise into weekly routines.

Doing exercise can be particularly difficult for Tamils who have moved to the West from India or Sri Lanka.

Former ENT surgeon, Dr. Chandrapal says: “People back home are more used to working hard and being active as part of their daily lives and not having specific exercise routines.”

He says it is crucial that children who have grown up in the West help educate their parents about health because they are taught about health and fitness in school.

A more important aspect of health is adopting a healthy diet. While Tamil foods are often high in fat and sugar, they can often be cooked in healthier ways.

 Dr Thayaparan recommends swapping out unhealthy food for healthier alternatives, for example using coconut oil instead of sunflower or vegetable oil and brown rice instead of white, while Dr Chandrapal encourages cutting down on ghee.

Dr. Thayaparan also recommends introducing aspects of the Mediterranean diet into eastern dishes, he says: “Aspects of the Mediterranean diet which includes fish, omega-3 oils and grilled vegetables which are good for the heart can easily be incorporated into curry dishes.”

Metabolic syndrome, which involves a number of biochemical and physiological abnormalities that lead to diabetes and heart disease, has been linked to vitamin D deficiency, which is highly common among Tamils.

Tamils abroad usually do not receive as much sunlight, which provides a key source of vitamin D, and often attempt to avoid the sun because it leads to tanning which many Asians avoid because fair skin is still largely associated with beauty. To counter this, both doctors recommend going out in the sun for at least ten minutes during summer or taking vitamin D supplements.

Dr. Thayaparan says: “We’re used to higher sunlight levels in our native countries,  lack of vitamin D is linked to metabolic syndrome, avoiding the sun due to concern over appearance can be detrimental; this attitude is a big problem.”

He notes that alcohol intake should be limited and smoking should be cut out completely. Relating back to the issue of seclusion, those that need help quitting or cutting down on either are often reluctant to take advantage of the help offered by NHS services.

He says: “There is often a stigma associated with getting help in the Tamil community, which needs to be eradicated, we are making slow progress but there is a long way to go.”

 

 

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