Obesity is most often a result of unhealthy practices such as overeating and the lack of exercise which have become a part of the modern lifestyle globally. While it has been much talked about in the West, it’s been largely ignored that India and other developing countries, too, are seeing growing numbers of people above their healthy body mass index.
In today’s fast paced world, lack of time to exercise due to a stressful work culture often leads to unhealthy employees who are tired and irritable for reasons they don’t quite understand. People often sacrifice sleep to meet a deadline without a second thought. Lack of sleep is a big reason for weight gain. If a person doesn’t get their forty winks, their body is unable to produce hormones that help relieve stress. This in turn leads to tiredness and irritability. Such people will look for quick energy fixes high in carbohydrates and sugar, but low in nutrition. The more you forgo your sleep, the worse your lifestyle choices become—it’s a vicious cycle.
The American Journal of Physiology says that a large number of people have their meals in a sympathetic state. This means their central nervous system is always under stress while they eat. This hinders digestion and eventually leads to weight gain. Psychological issues like depression, certain prescriptions medicines like birth control pills, an imbalance in one’s hormones, taking steroids are among other factors that contribute to the current global obesity crisis.
The influx of fast food, cheap and readily available but lacking in core nutritional value, has also contributed to the recent increase in India’s average weight. One report shows that it is easier to purchase a packet of potato chips in Dharavi than actual vegetables, leading several children to malnutrition, which ironically, isn’t because of poverty, but consumption of junk food.
These are real concerns that affect Indians, but often health issues go unnoticed till they become out of control. One solution to this is to accept the problem, and then tackle it head-front. Go for a walk, take a breath of fresh air, exercise, switch off your phone, stay active. Put your health first, because at the end of the day, without health, everything else is useless.
It is not as simple as blaming binge eating for the menace of ill health. Even something as basic as genetics—your own genes—could be against you. Research has shown that human obesity rises from complex interactions of multiple genes, environmental factors as well as human behaviour of which genetic makeup plays an important role. Genetics have been seen to determine the way an individual can respond to diet and exercise, and also their susceptibility to obesity when exposed to an unfavourable environment.
Combating obesity is not going to be easy in India, a country that is currently ranked the third-most overweight location in the world, after the US and China. And an increasing sedentary lifestyle amongst Indians is to blame for many of the health issues that plague us. According to studies, if you are sitting for six-seven hours a day, the risk of heart attacks, cancer and a shorter life span are higher, even if you exercise. On the other hand, a knowledge paper Obesity in the Indian context by VLCC reveals that reducing sitting time and standing for an hour can help burn approximately 50 extra kilocalories. So by standing for two hours a day for a year one can lose more than 25,000 calories (that is running at least 6 marathons), or nearly 3 kgs.
At VLCC we observed that around 95 per cent of our clients between 2012 and 2015 were in the productive age group of 20 to 60 years. So this increase in working population in India coincides with the rise in chronic diseases, most of which are linked to obesity.
The biggest challenge is that most people typically do not seek healthcare until a medical problem linked to their weight is detected—from hypertension or diabetes to numerous other lifestyle disorders. It is shocking but many of the clients who come to our centres have a medical condition either directly or indirectly related to their weight that they are unaware of, and discover this only after a counselling session with the doctors at our centres.
Observations in the New England Journal of Medicine make an interesting suggestion that obesity could be “socially contagious.”
On Anti-Obesity Day, which is observed on November 26, let us pledge to spread awareness about the dangers of excessive weight gain.
The author is founder of VLCC