The wealth of a nation should be measured by the health and fitness of its population (youngsters), not by pieces of gold and silver", a statement inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, is something we all need to accept, adopt and start working on.

In the “World Disasters Report" released last month, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimated that many people in India, mainly in the younger age group in metros, are either overweight or obese.

In another report, “Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases in India", the Public Health Foundation of India, a public-private partnership, recently estimated that non-communicable diseases accounted for 53% of India’s overall mortality in 2005. These include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, pulmonary diseases, cancers and mental health disorders, to name a few.

No short cuts: Adopt a healthier lifestyle for life.

To be fair to my medical colleagues, they are equally clueless about how to approach this tricky situation, because it’s almost never part of medical training. Obesity makes our work a lot more difficult; instead, we could focus simply on thinner patients, in whom the results of treatment would be a lot more predictable.

Then there are those in the “wellness industry" who are misguiding these soft targets. Globally, obese and overweight people are made to believe there are short cuts to help them tackle their problem. If the “wellness industry" ever quotes any medical research, it is the one that suits their business model. At times, they quote medical research that is flawed.

Even medical associations, which have no vested interest and may advise conservative solutions, at times overestimate the results of the hard road to fitness. The British Dietetic Association, the National Health Service, UK, and the American Dietetic Association tell us that if we cut around 500 calories from our daily diet, or burn them off exercising, we can expect to lose half a kilo in weight every week. They estimate that if the same routine is maintained for a year, 26kg weight loss will occur.

A newer study published in the August edition of Lancet, done at the US’ National Institutes of Health, says this is a gross overestimation. Lead author Kevin Hall, of the Laboratory of Biological Modeling, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, estimates that it would take three years, not one, for the predicted results.

Most obese and overweight people give up after attempting to follow the hard and long route for a few months because they don’t see the promised unrealistic results in that short period. Even worse is when they regain the weight after having stayed the course for a year or more.

Even though everyone is looking for a quick fix, people need to understand that weight gained over decades will not disappear in a few weeks or months. There is no magic pill; all short cuts have a very short shelf life. They also need to understand that they have to play an active role in getting themselves fit. They need to adopt a healthier lifestyle for life, not for a designated time.

This battle needs mental strength and willpower. A recent study by Kathleen Page of the Yale University School of Medicine in Connecticut, US, published in the September issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation, found that the brain scans of thin people who looked at pictures of high-calorie foods showed increased activity in a region of the brain used for impulse control; obese people, however, showed little activity in this region, and were less able hence to shut off the parts of the brain that drive food cravings.

The point being, excess weight, poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle are problems that need to be addressed seriously from every angle, from home to school, college and workplace, with people being encouraged to make healthier lifestyle choices. People should not be assessed only on academic or financial performance—there should be “health and fitness assessments" every quarter. For only if students and employees are healthy can they perform at optimum levels and be more productive.

Rajat Chauhan is a practitioner of sports and exercise medicine and musculoskeletal medicine, and CEO of Back 2 Fitness.

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