Towards an ‘obese’ Pakistan


WEB DESK: Speaking at the launch of a health portal in Karachi the other day, senior doctors and dietitians said obesity is now a health emergency in this country as every 4th Pakistani is obese, including children under 10 years of age.

That may appear to be an exaggerated figure considering that obesity is generally associated with affluence, but survey reports show the problem is on the rise world-wide, including in various developing countries. It may be recalled that while ago “Global Burden of Disease Study” published by a well-respected medical journal, The Lancet, ranked Pakistan at 9th place among 188 countries having dangerously overweight people. The problem is the result of both changing lifestyles and growing social inequalities that make healthy foods unaffordable for a vast majority of people in countries like Pakistan.

The main culprits are sedentary lifestyles and consumption of bad diets that are low in proteins and high in carbohydrates as well as saturated fats. Whereas in the past daily routines involved some sort of physical activity and food habits were relatively simple, most people living in urban centres now spend their time sitting in vehicles, offices, or watching television with the result that belly bulges are an increasingly common sight – and an important indication of an individual’s vulnerability to chronic illnesses.

It is worthwhile to note that in developed countries the common method used for measuring obesity is the Body Mass Index factoring in body weight and height, but in Pakistan as well as other South Asian nations, abdominal circumference determines whether or not a person is obese. According to doctors at the Karachi event, a woman’s waist circumference should not be more than 80 cm (31.5 inches) and in men it ought to be about 90 cm (34.5 inches). Exceeding these limits can invite serious and chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart problems, osteoarthritis and depression. Just a random look around is enough for one to realise that obesity is a major public health issue, and calls for preventive strategy.

A reduction in social inequalities in this country may be a vain hope at this point in time. But good health yet can be promoted. First of all, the concerned authorities need to recognize that Pakistan has a serious obesity problem and take preventive measures. People should be better informed about food choices that are healthier and easily affordable; and also made aware of the benefits of physical activity. Health planning should also include nutritional issues. Expansion and improvement of medical treatment facilities is imperative, but is not the only solution. An emphasis on preventive action in fact can ease the burden on hospitals to a significant extent.

Source: Business Recorder