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Like many farang (foreigners) in Thailand, I once found myself on thanon Silom (Silom Road) in the heart of Bangkok late at night wondering what to do next.

While pausing to drink a bottle of chilled water from a 7-11 store I remember standing long enough to watch consecutive sky trains pass overhead on the elevated BTS rapid transit system.

What suddenly occurred to me was that, in comparing Bangkok to the human body, these trains were akin to pulses along the city’s circulatory system. This was late at night as the city was in a resting state and so the pulses were slower, but in peak hours the pulses would increase as the city body stress increased.

Continuing the analogy the citizens of the city were the blood platelets, slipping into increasingly narrow sois (lanes) and then the final capillary paths before reaching home. But like any body the toxins needed removal, and the human white blood cells would later come along thanon Silom in a truck removing the small hills of rubbish now lining the footpaths.

I could continue this analogy, suggesting that surging city population growth is akin to a form of cancer brought about by unstoppable cell reproduction, that traffic jams are like head pains as the circulation is suddenly restricted, and that public transport plays the role of a blood thinning medication reducing the risk of blood clots and ultimately strokes, however I trust you get the idea.

Nevertheless that final example of blood thinning brings me to the key point. Like many of their citizen’s bodies, the biggest health risks to the city bodies of Southeast Asia come from heart disease. And the biggest risk factors for human heart disease may be high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes, which in the city body could be respectively be attributed being overweight (overpopulation), excessive air pollution and an energy consumption/expenditure imbalance.

Like human bodies the Southeast Asian cities of Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila and others differ considerably, but in their surging heart disease risks the causes and symptoms are similar and evident.