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Monday, February 1, 2016

Paunch spreads into India’s middle class

Most of us can recall meeting a grocer or a shopkeeper with a luxurious paunch: something that used to be the butt of numerous jokes a couple of years back. The same thing would likely be true of automobile drivers, office clerks, domestic help, and other service providers. Hence, the notion that only the swish set struggle with problems of overweight and those with lower income levels don’t, has become obsolete several decades ago.

Now, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) - one of the most widely read medical publications in the world - has said the same thing, based on a new study conducted over five years from 2010 onwards. The study involving more than 7,000 people living in different parts of India showed that obesity has now trickled down to the lower socio-economic strata of the Indian society.

A sizeable number of people were unskilled labourers or had no regular job, but at least 35 per cent of these people had a bulge around the abdomen. The proportion of obese women was observed to be higher than men.

So why does this happen? 

While the BMJ article notes that in recent years, Indians (as a society) have enjoyed greater prosperity than ever before, they also suggest that Indian view an ample paunch as a “mark of prosperity”.

However, this view may be quite off the mark. Nutritionists and food scientists have long held the opinion that obesity is more a function of what you eat rather than how much you eat. We often see that people who haven’t had enough to eat in their early years, tend to eat a lot of carbohydrates (rice, for example) when they are finally able to afford it.

Vegetables, pulses, fish, and eggs form a relatively minor portion of the daily diet of middle class and working class families, and fruits are hardly ever seen. As the family emerges from a state of poverty, the quality of food improves and quite often the quantity reaches a plateau. Rich people don’t always consume more food, they usually eat better food.

There is also another explanation offered by some researchers. According to this school of thought, a young adult born to a poorly nourished mother will often tend to gain weight faster and more easily than someone born into a more privileged family. That is because the memory of deprivation is transferred across generations and the body tends to preserve whatever energy it can get. In such people, even exercise does not help, because their bodies tend to utilise less energy than others in doing the same amount of activity.

Here's how you can control obesity:

The remedy for this kind of obesity is for the person affected to eat a carefully balanced diet, comprising just the right amount of calories along with plenty of salads, raw vegetables, etc. It usually requires consultation with a well-trained dietician.

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