Health is a primal concern. Every country, every society and every family hopes for fit and healthy members. When their health is good, people are able to concentrate on exploring and expressing their potential. They can be consistent and persistent in their efforts to learn, evolve, contribute and progress.
A recent development in the US has put the exercise versus diet tussle into sharp focus. A well-known sugar-soda company is apparently backing and funding a foundation whose experts claim that it is not the consumption of sweet sodas and junk food that is leading to obesity. The problem, instead, is the lack of exercise.
But this is a tricky debate that should be heard with caution. Every region of the world is different and unique in culture and habits. It is important to understand and analyse the circumstances of each region (in this case our patterns of diet and exercise) for its own merits or demerits to arrive at a more balanced and useful point of view.
The current drift in the US warns that Americans are not exercising enough. Lifestyles are more staid now than they were before as more time is spent on screens and sitting at the computer.
Be that as it may, from an urban Indian point of view, the average American exercises more than what any of us do. I stayed for three weeks at a bed-and-breakfast in LA with Penny and Jake during a shoot. It was an old house, almost 90 years old, just off Hollywood Boulevard. Penny was away travelling on distribution deals, and Jake's day was packed. He fixed the meals, attending to little Jenny who was a year old, did the laundry, tended to the plants, worked six hours from home for his IT company, cleaned the car, bought groceries and paid the bills. He did all this while helping one other contract worker in renovating the house. They were working on the plumbing, on painting the exterior and on replacing tiles.
As urban Indians, irrespective of economic strata, we usually have help either at home or as office attendants or both, to run errands for us. Additionally, we can avail of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, security guards, chauffeurs and a range of other facilitators for an affordable fee without thinking of having to do any of this ourselves.
Therefore, to say that the average US citizen is not exercising enough, in this context, seems grossly incorrect. Given this comparison, Indians should be twice as overweight as our friends on the other continent. Why is it then that obesity is a national crisis in the US?
What probably mitigates the effect of lesser exercise for us is the food we eat. There is no substitute to freshly prepared food. Whether prepared by a hired hand, or by a member of the family, we are accustomed to cooking several times a week, if not every day or for every meal. It is a custom that has served us well.
When things come out of a packet, they have been processed with chemicals and have lost at least some nutrients in the process of having to last long on the shelf. There is no denying this, irrespective of the marketing spiel we see on TV and hoardings, and through employees of a company pushing packed food at a super market.
The bottom line is this. Junk food is junk. Sugar sodas are sugar. Each of us, man or woman, should know how to prepare a fresh meal for our own selves and teach these skills to our children, both boy and girl. That would be a legacy worth imparting.