Could there be a link between the area in which you live and your weight? This is one angle of weight management that is seldom explored and yet it could have a vital impact on one’s weight, health and fitness. We like everything to be easy and convenient and generally dislike going out of the way to get things. This attitude has made us a society that is sedentary, leading to problems like obesity. Being overweight or obese is sometimes at the root of problems like diabetes, heart diseases and high blood pressure. The trend is actually alarming. According to a World Health Organization report, India’s Non- Communicable Disease Burden has been increasing over the years. Its 2014 report states- “Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) contribute to around 5.87 million deaths that account for 60 % of all deaths in India.” They further state, “The prevalence of obesity and overweight is also showing a rapid increase in trends…. prevalence of obesity (BMI≥ 30) has increased by 22 % in the span of four years (2010-2014).” (1)
With the increase of globalization, better income and improved standards of living, our present generation is now able to afford things like cars and eating out frequently. Supermarkets are a common feature at almost every corner, their aisles packed with junk foods, ready to eat and convenience foods. These foods can be prepared quickly. Instead of fresh foods, cooked with healthy fat and natural ingredients, they rely heavily on excess amounts of salt, unhealthy fat and sugar to make the foods tasty and appealing.
Fast food restaurants and vendors selling junk foods on push carts are present in almost every locality. Push carts sell a variety of unhealthy foods, ranging from paav bhaaji to pani puri to piping hot jalebis. Walking by and catching a whiff of these snacks can surely tempt you! They are readily available and usually have a good number of people standing around and eating from them. Studies have shown that fast foods in close proximity to residential areas are linked to higher BMI’s (Body Mass Index), especially in children. Even Indian restaurants, tend to serve unhealthy and deep-fried foods like puris, pakoras, bhaji’s, chaats and calorie dense sweets.
On the other hand, infrastructure sadly leaves a lot to be desired. Roads are full of potholes and lack separate lanes for those who wish to cycle. Footpaths in certain areas are almost non- existent and if they are made, they are so badly maintained that you are better of (and safer) not using them. Public transport can get crowded and often does not keep time. So, people prefer to take a cab or drive. This further leads to a lack of physical activity. Parks and green spaces are considered to be luxuries. Many residential areas lack a playground or park for children. This again limits on suitable and safe areas for children to play and in which people can exercise. Not everyone has access to a gym and many still prefer alternate forms of exercise like walking. But without adequate space, how do you get your 10,000 steps a day?
In days gone by, we used to take our shopping bags (which most often were ecofriendly- jute/ cotton) and walk or take public transport to the nearest market. There, we navigated through various stalls, bargaining with vendors and purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables. Another section of the market would contain shops selling provisions and staples like cereals and pulses. With heavy bags to carry back home, marketing would often be a family affair! Nowadays, while convenience stores are helpful, they are also stocked with calorie dense and nutritionally unsound foods. In some places, even before entering such a store, you are greeted by stalls at the entrance selling soft drinks, chaats, ice cream and other deep-fried snacks.
Can we ever win!?
As people are becoming increasingly health conscious, societies are demanding green spaces and walkways along with safe, clean parks for children to play in and for others to utilize for walking and exercising.
In some areas, on a fixed day each week, farmers from rural areas gather to sell their produce. The rates at these places are often cheaper than elsewhere. If you do visit such places, you need to walk around a bit!
Parks owned by the government, charge a small maintenance fee for the upkeep of the park and walkways. People of all age groups can use the park for exercise. Some remain open the whole day, while others open for a few hours in the morning and evening
Despite heavy traffic and road conditions, some people still choose to use their bicycles. For those cycling, it is important to always wear helmets, protective clothing and have reflectors or lights fitted on the bicycle.
While we cannot entirely blame our neighborhood for our lack of exercise and weight gain, it is important that we are aware of these changes around us. It is important to try to keep fit and active. If exercising outside is not an option, then make use of your space at home. A living room area can accommodate simple exercises and moderate intensity aerobics sessions. Take the stairs wherever possible. Try and avoid depending on junk foods for a quick fix meal. Some grocery stores also stock up of fruits and vegetables. Stick to the periphery of grocery stores and avoid wandering between the aisles, where the junk foods are arranged. As a study by S Inagami concludes, “Combating the obesity epidemic requires an understanding of the factors that contribute to it, both at the individual and neighborhood level.” Do a bit of homework on your own, try looking up healthy choices in nearby restaurants, try to socialize with friends in an environment that does not involve food and commit to eating more home- cooked meals.
With inputs from:
2. Inagami S, Cohen DA, Brown AF, Asch SM. Body Mass Index, Neighborhood Fast Food and Restaurant Concentration, and Car Ownership. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. 2009;86(5):683-695. doi:10.1007/s11524-009-9379-y.
3. Li F, Harmer P, Cardinal BJ, Bosworth M, Johnson-Shelton D. Obesity and the Built Environment: Does the Density of Neighborhood Fast-Food Outlets Matter? American journal of health promotion: AJHP. 2009;23(3):203-209.
4. Odoms-Young A, Singleton CR, Springfield S, McNabb L, Thompson T. Retail Environments as a Venue for Obesity Prevention. Current obesity reports. 2016;5(2):184-191. doi:10.1007/s13679-016-0219-6.
5. Lebel A, Daepp MIG, Block JP, et al. Quantifying the foodscape: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the validity of commercially available business data. Krukowski RA, ed. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(3): e0174417. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0174417.
6. Upadhyay RP. An Overview of the Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases in India. Iranian Journal of Public Health. 2012;41(3):1-8.