The past few months have changed the world as we knew it. The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the world and India is no different. While we are all still grappling with questions around the short and long-term impacts of COVID-19, one thing is for certain – when we come out on the other side, the world will look very different.
Yes, it’s obvious that the raging and rampaging pandemic refers to the COVID-19 infections. The silent epidemic in-waiting is the ‘Obesity & Over-Weight Epidemic’. According to some key facts given by WHO in 2020, the prevalence of obesity has increased 3 times since 1975, globally. More than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight as per 2016 statistics and around 650 millions of them are obese. As per 2019 statistics, around 38 million children under the age group of 5 years are obese
Currently in India, there are more than 135 million obese people. Based on the data from the 2007 National Family Health Survey, Delhi and Punjab are at the top of the list of states with maximum obese, over weight people while Telangana and Tripura are at the bottom of the list.
Having a BMI ( Body Mass Index) of greater than 25 is categorised as being overweight and a BMI over 30 is categorised as obesity. Abdominal circumference of more than 40 inches in males and more than 35 Inches in females increases the risk of health problems. More fat in the central region ( around the abdomen) poses more risk for health problems like heart attacks and diabetes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to overweight and obesity. The ‘work from home’, lockdowns, closure of gyms and parks, closure of schools, boredom and comfort eating, stress eating etc, have all contributed to weight gain both in adults and children.
Multiple surveys done in 2020 have revealed that a significant proportion of people have gained weight due to ‘COVID Restrictions’. It’s a vicious cycle – COVID restrictions contributing to weight gain – this weight gain further increasing risk of complications if the person suffers from COVID-19. The situation has even worsened for the people who were already on a weight loss journey. They have been finding it even more difficult to maintain the lost weight and to continue the weight loss journey.
In the months and years to come, once the pandemic is relatively controlled, we will surely see increased cases of heart problems, strokes, diabetes, etc precipitated by weight gain, accelerated because of the ‘new normal’ that the COVID pandemic has brought in. The Pre-COVID obesity predictions for the next decade would be much higher.
Childhood obesity has also increased alarmingly due to closure of schools, COVID restrictions and online classes. Obesity in children is only on the rise and this is very alarming, because this can lead to serious health issues in their adulthood. More and more children are turning ‘ Pre-diabetics’ and Diabetics’ due to sedentary lifestyles and increasing body weight.
The risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, increases 4 times in overweight & obese children. India has the second highest number of obese children in the world, second only to China.
Gloomy predictions for the future
According to a recent study in 2020, (4) the prevalence of overweight and obesity is projected to increase significantly by 2040.
Their predictive model puts the increase percentage in overweight at 32.3 percent in women and 37.1 percent in men by 2040.
Overweight and obesity increases your risk for developing a) Type 2 Diabetes, b)Hypertension, c) Heart disease & Dyslipidaemia, d) Stroke & Paralysis e) Cancers like esophageal cancer, colon and rectal cancers, gall bladder and pancreatic cancers, kidney cancer, thyroid cancer, uterine and breast cancers f) Respiratory problems and sleep apnoea g) Fatty liver disease h) Kidney disease i) Osteoarthritis j) Sexual & reproductive disorders like Erectile dysfunction in men, loss of libido and infertility in both men and women and low levels of Testosterone in men. There are many more health issues and multiple direct & indirect mechanisms by which overweight & obesity can wreck your health and bring down the quality of life.
It’s high time we take control of our lives and make an effort to reduce the chances of us landing on a hospital bed with heart attacks, strokes or cancers!! We need to make sure that our children have a healthy foundation now, to prevent them from getting sick as they grow.
If we can imagine what our sickness or being bedridden, would do to our family and finances, then surely we would be even more motivated to lose some weight. A combination of diet modification and activity are the two basic pillars for weight optimization. Time to take control of our health and lives. The purpose of this article and use of harsher tone of language, is not to scare you, but to drive home hard, the ill-effects of being obese.
(Dr. Lalitha Reddy is Founder, ForMen & ForKids)