CHENNAI, India (Reuters) - India's health minister on Saturday said he wants to push all school-going children to learn yoga, in the hope that it can reduce the prevalence of diseases such as diabetes and hypertension in years to come.
Last week, Malaysia's National Fatwa Council, comprising Islamic scholars, sparked widespread protests when it told Muslims to avoid yoga because it uses Hindu prayers that could erode Muslims' faith.
"There should be extensive scientific deliberations on yoga. And today I blatantly put that yoga reduces diabetes, yoga reduces hypertension, yoga reduces stress," Anbumani Ramadoss told a regional diabetes summit in Chennai in southern India.
"I am going to make yoga mandatory for all school-going children in India (from) the coming year."
The Malaysian Islamic scholars' decision drew a sharp rebuke from many Muslims and saw Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi move to contain the damage, telling national news agency Bernama that Muslims could carry on doing yoga but minus the chanting.
Adult-onset diabetes has been linked to risk factors like aging, an inactive lifestyle, unhealthy diets, smoking, alcohol and obesity.
The silent chronic disease damages the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves and was responsible for 3.8 million deaths worldwide in 2007.
India carries the highest diabetes burden in the world, with 41 million cases in 2007 and that is estimated to hit 70 million by 2025, according to the International Diabetes Federation.
It is worsening in rural India, which now has a diabetes prevalence of 9.2 percent among people 20 years of age and older from 2.2 percent in 1983. Prevalence of the disease in urban areas is 18.6 percent from 11.2 percent in 1998.
"People used to walk to the fields, draw water from wells ... today, they use tractors and when they get home, they sit in front of the TV," Ramadoss told the conference.