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Obesity is biggest health challenge!

We in India are also seeing a strong class migration of obesity, which is no more confined to the rich. The end result is that nearly nine per cent of the Indians is suffering from Type-II Diabetes.

It is true that we recognise the true value of health only when we lose  it. It is also true that many a time, the choices we make determine our physical as well as mental health. In the last couple of centuries, nations across the world have made huge strides in improving health but the dramatic prevalence of obesity world over is threatening this continued progress. 

Even the richest countries of the world do not have the resources needed to deal with obesity and all other associated diseases. India, which is already struggling with an under-resourced public healthcare and an ill-organised private sector run by corporates, will find it almost impossible to deal with the challenges if the epidemic of obesity continues unabated. Already, some 4.0 per cent of adults suffer from obesity, making India the third most obese nation in the world after the United States and China.

Inevitably, individual health depends much on social norms and it is almost impossible to address health issues in a holistic manner without analysing the structure and beliefs of society. One does not need to dig too deep to find the complex web of overpopulation, poverty and outdated thinking that underpins the health of an individual and that of our country as a whole.

Almost everything that we do or don’t influences our health in some way or the other — whether it is the food we eat, the jobs we take, the hours we work, the transport we use, the way we think and even the personal choices we make. It is, hence, impossible to dream of a healthy society without analysing and addressing all its determinants simultaneously. A healthy society demands a concerted effort that goes beyond GDP allocation for healthcare — into almost every single walk of life. 

The rapidly growing epidemic of obesity can be our opportunity to bring about the much-needed radical change. A new approach, that takes a critical look at each and every aspect of our society and some of its outdated thinking, is the need of hour. India need not go through the journey that other countries have experienced. For example, we may not have the modern towns and cities, which developed countries boast, but we have an opportunity to develop townships with trees, playgrounds, pavements for walking and cycle paths. This will allow us to address the twin challenges of obesity and climate change coherently. We could preserve our high street rather than blindly imitating the Western model of larger and larger supermarkets. Every problem, as they say, is also an opportunity.

Worldwide, mental health problems are on the rise as more people are getting sucked into a materialistic competitive lifestyle where no amount of possession is enough and the quest for ‘more’ is almost insatiable. We have created an economic model where there are tens of millions unemployed and those, who have jobs, are working longer hours than ever. This means people have little time left to spend with their children or cook healthy food or pursue anything else that is enjoyable.

It is possible to employ more people and reduce working hours for all to allow each one of us to live a wholesome life. Busy lifestyles mean families do not have the time to source ingredients and learn skills needed to prepare a healthy meal at home. As a consequence, reliance on processed and fast food is spiralling out of control and remains a major driver of the obesity epidemic. 

Obesity affects individuals but it is a disease of the society and the number of individuals suffering can, therefore, be used as an indicator of the well-being of the society as a whole just like we use Infant Mortality Rate as an indicator of the quality of any healthcare system. Undoubtedly, individuals can take steps to manage their own weight and fitness, but a well thought-out comprehensive national strategy is the only real way forward that can have several other positive ramifications for the society.

It is a fact that obesity increases the risk of dying earlier and reduces the lifespan of afflicted individuals. This is why rising incidence of obesity in children is particularly worrying. It is true that India has a younger population and it is not faced with the problems faced by many ageing Western societies but it is also true that people get old and when the current generation gets old, will the children of today be fit enough to look after them or need help themselves? With a significant number of children, including many in the lower socio-economic group, now either overweight or obese, this is the question that we in India will face sooner or later. Curbing childhood obesity should be a national priority.

Furthermore, obesity is no longer just a disease of the rich. Just like Western countries, where obesity is now predominantly a disease of the lower socio-economic classes, we in India are also seeing a strong class migration of obesity. It is not uncommon to see individuals in lower socio-economic classes suffering from obesity and its associated diseases. The end result is that nearly 9.0 per cent of the Indians is already suffering from Type-II Diabetes, just one of the many diseases related to excess of body fat.

There are countless more, including some types of cancers. Will our lower middle classes with their meagre financial resources be able to afford treatment of these diseases or slip back into the trap of poverty they were just beginning to get out of? It is a question our healthcare planners should  ponder over. In times when the country is still dealing with problems like poverty, undernutrition and infectious diseases like tuberculosis and malaria, how will we muster the resources needed to deal with a disease that even the richest countries of the world are finding difficult to face? This makes fighting obesity a major individual and national issue that needs dealing with today.

Source (The Pioneer)