India needs to get its act together withoutdelay
With approximately 4 per cent of its population now clinically obese, India is part of the pandemic of obesity and its associated diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Obesity is undoubtedly one of the biggest public health challenges we face and yet the disease does not seem to have caught the imagination of the general public and the policymakers. For a disease that pretty much affects every single organ and system in the human body, the lack of attention it gets from the wider society is somewhat remarkable.
We can continue in our ways but only at our own peril as this disease truly has the potential to be the reason behind the extinction of Homo sapiens!
If it continues unabated, the obesity epidemic can truly reverse India’s new-found economic success and families might find themselves slipping back into the poverty they just crawled out of, after hundreds of years of misery and misfortune.
Even the wealthiest of societies in the world do not have the financial resources to deal with the consequences of obesity. Just the medical cost of this epidemic — the cost of treating obesity and dozens of diseases associated with it — is already running into hundreds of billions of US dollars globally and stretching the finite healthcare resources of even the most developed countries in the world.
If you also take into account the loss of productivity, considering obesity tends to affect the working-age demographics more severely, the cost would be much higher.
India would simply have no chance and our dream of ever becoming a developed country would stay just that.
The phenomenon of middle-aged men or women suffering from obesity and diabetes and then dying prematurely from a heart attack or stroke is becoming all too familiar and yet at least, in theory, the disease is completely preventable if we take concrete steps now.
I am not saying it will be easy — just that it can be done if each of us took some ownership of our health. It will mean understanding the relationship between food and weight. It will mean understanding the difference between good and bad food. It will mean learning about how we can curb calorie intake without feeling hungry all the time. It will mean understanding what we can do to increase calorie expenditure on a day-to-day basis. It will quite simply mean being more aware of our weight and the determinants of obesity as we go about the business of life.
It will mean us recognising obesity as the menace it is and the threat it potentially poses to individuals and to us as a species. It will mean parents taking ownership of their own eating behaviour and lifestyle and guiding their children onto the right path so that they can then guide their children and the cycle can continue. It will mean employers, the government, policymakers, the food industry, the media, and us all working together. It is not yet too late for us in India. Though in absolute terms we are the third most obese country in the world, in percentage terms India is still far behind and that means there is yet hope for us.