Obesity: An emerging health threat in Nepal
Dr Kiran Gurung
It is time for the government of Nepal to act against the threat posed by the burden of obesity in our society. Obesity poses huge threat to the economy and its health implications are enormous. It is time for us to rise against this global epidemic. Obesity is a priority global public health problem. The epidemic has spread across the globe including developing countries like Nepal.
What is Obesity?
Obesity is defined as when an individual’s Body Mass Index (BMI) is more than 30. BMI is calculated as weight in kilogram divided by squares of height in metres. The healthy body weight is Body Mass Index between 18.5 - 25.5.
What are Health Risks and Implication to Economy?
Obesity is a direct risk factor for many medical conditions like Diabetes, High Blood pressure, Heart attack, Stroke, Liver Disease and Cancer. It is the root cause for these conditions. Unless obesity is tackled, these medical conditions are going to rise in our society. The direct impact of health burden due to Diabetes and High Blood Pressure are enormous. Diabetes and High Blood Pressure can lead to multiple problems like Kidney Failure, Heart Attacks, Stroke and can damage the nerves in our body.
The research have shown obese people are less productive than individuals with healthy weight. Obesity can lead to multiple health problems which have direct impact on loss of productivity, unemployment, loss of tax revenue, social isolations, long term disabilities and premature deaths. It poses enormous burden to the treating doctors in the health care settings. The wise tales “Health is wealth” and “prevention is better than cure” is fundamental to reach to the ground level in the society. The growing fat society needs to be halted before it is too late.
What Causes obesity? Who is responsible ? Can we blame individuals?
Obesity used to be a problem of western world. However, this scenario has changed in recent decades. The tide of obesity has doubled since 1980 in the world as per WHO. Obesity has compounded the health burden on top of malnutrition problem in developing countries. The double burden of malnutrition and obesity is a major challenge to Nepal. The cultural beliefs of obesity as a symbol of wealth in our society is red herring for healthy lives. Time has come to rise against this global crisis.
Obesity is a complex problem. It is easier to say “eat less and move more”. We cannot solely blame individuals who are obese. It may be individual’s choice of lifestyle and eating habits but the government has to take responsibility to tackle the “obesogenic environment” of the 21st century. The physical inactivity due to advancement of high tech technologies, internet and motorized transport has immensely contributed to the rise in obese society. The modern era of internet driven lifestyle have people spend more time in internet as leisure activities than ever before. The abundance of processed high energy food products in supermarkets across the country has offered unhealthy choices to our society. These obesogenic environment needs to be tackled to fight against obesity.
What needs to be done?
Simple health education is important but is not the solution. As obesity is global phenomenon, if simple education had done the trick, the tide of obesity would not have increased in developed countries in the west. The multiple webs of factors are responsible for obesity crisis. Lifestyle, environment, cultural, technological and political factors are responsible for rise in obesity.
We need effective strategy. It is unfair to just ask society to move more or eat less. The government has to take the lead to tackle the obesogenic environment. It has to be collective approach rather than just society or the government. The wider partnership with local societies, local leaders, food industries and Health care workers are key in tackling the problem. Empowering the communities to rise against the crisis is vital. It is critical that healthy life styles are introduced at schools so that children don’t grow obese when they turn adults. The junk foods and high energy food needs to be banned in schools and they should be taught about the benefits of healthy, properly cooked foods and risks of obesity. The absence effective intervention is worrying. Our society needs informed and healthy food choices. It is time for government to act and take the blame for putting us at risk of unhealthy obesogenic environment.
Research has shown that problem of obesity lies in imbalance between calorie intake and expenditure. The recommended daily calorie intake is 2500 for adult males and 2000 for adult females. The red traffic food labelling in the food products is key to calculate calorie intake by the consumers. The government needs to look into this and robust system of proper food labelling is must to give informed choices to our society. The recommended physical exercise is 30 minutes of moderately to intense exercise for at least 5 days a week to keep us healthy. There needs to be more sports field and leisure centres to encourage society for regular exercise. It is time for government to look in the root cause than to treat symptoms.
Dr Gurung, MD (Internal Medicine), Faculty of Health and Social Care, Kingston University, London. He can be reached at: email@example.com
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