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Monday, August 1, 2011

HEALTH & OBESITY: Expanding waistlines and ballooning potbellies!

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Murali Pasupathy, The Hindu / July 30, 2011.

An obesity epidemic is staring at us, though all of us would like to wish it away.
An obesity epidemic is staring at us, though all of us would like to wish it away - The Hindu.

Man, since the Neanderthal days, has never experienced a smorgasbord of food as he does today. The human body simply cannot cope with bountiful and rich food because it has never encountered a similar situation in the past
An obesity epidemic is staring at us, though all of us would like to wish it away. I was a near victim myself when, 10 years ago, I walked into this trap of overeating without understanding the attendant consequences. I had just got an offer from a large IT company and like any other large corporation it wanted me to undergo a master check-up in the Apollo Hospitals. All major tests were done and the only point of concern was my blood pressure reading.
It was 140/90 and the physician was upset. He told me that the current generation of professionals was not paying attention to physical fitness as much as they ought to. He signed off on my fitness certificate with palpable reluctance. As I trudged out of the hospital, I promised myself — never will I be in this situation again in my life. My apathy to health management had nearly cost me my job and with it my future. However, I lost about 18 kg the following year and, over the last decade, I have tried my best to propagate the concept of maintaining a healthy physique through diet control and a proper exercise regime among my colleagues and friends.
I do not know how many of us would take a similar experience. The lack of seriousness is clearly evident in the expanding waistlines and potbellies that we see among the middle class population in the city. All of us should spare a moment to understand the First Law of Thermodynamics — it states that in a thermodynamic process the increment in the internal energy of a system is equal to the increment of the energy supplied to the system minus the work done by the system on its surroundings.
Consider our human body as a system. The current daily routine with a home full of electrical appliances and power-driven equipment has reduced the work done by the system to almost zero. So, the energy intake in the form of food goes directly to increase the internal energy or the way the human body stores it — excess fat. If one understands this basic tenet, obesity can never be a threat. We have got accustomed to motorised transport for our daily office commutes and regular outings. We are unable to walk down to the nearby market to buy vegetables, however near the destination, because of the scarcity of time. Yet, we continue to eat the same quantity of food that someone of our age would have consumed 30 years ago.
Even children are not spared by this obesity monster. Children can eat anything, is a common refrain that we hear very often. Not anymore. When I was a schoolboy, I used to commute to my school in a neighbouring town 12 km away. The total time I spent walking with a 2 kg load of books was about one hour everyday. That is all you need as physical exercise everyday to maintain a fit body. The energy I spent moving my limbs was not a planned affair in a park listening to music from a mobile phone. It happened as a routine because of the necessities and compulsions of that era.
Cut to the chase. An auto picks up my son right in front of my apartment. He has to barely walk from where the auto drops him to get into the school. But he complains about his bad luck because he has to climb the staircase to go to his classroom. He should consider himself lucky as some calories are burnt away instead of getting accumulated on his waist. He throws a tantrum when I insist that he has to spend 30 minutes everyday cycling inside our apartment complex.
Today, if one thinks children can continue to eat copious quantities of burgers, pizzas, cakes, chips, etc, it doesn't appeal to a rational mind. I take my kids regularly to chess tournaments. I come across too many children with bulging waists and unwieldy bodies. We as a nation are breeding a whole new generation of sick individuals. What worries me most is the lack of awareness among young parents who are well educated. They live in the past and are somehow oblivious to the clear and present danger.
The feasts organised during marriages, religious congregations and birthday parties are a clear indication of lack of appreciation of scientific findings in society. Full course meals with plentiful varieties of oily food and sweet dishes made of refined sugar at one go will hit the insulin glands like a ton of bricks. Our body is a supremely engineered machine with self-healing mechanisms and the ability to revitalise was perfected over thousands of years of evolution. As we all know, machines depreciate right from day one. If people gorge at this rate and flood their alimentary canals with high glycaemia index (GI) foods, the rate of depreciation will be precipitous. The useful life of this machine, which is approximately 65 to 70 years, will reduce drastically.

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