Indians – The Vulnerable Lot

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Indians – The Vulnerable Lot

Till recently, India’s chief concern was fighting malnutrition and starvation among its people. But the sudden increase in obesity, especially in the large cities and metros, has made the Indian researchers to delve into the root causes of this problem.

► Researchers state that Indians tend to have a high percentage of body fat at lower levels of BMI.

► They found that there is a pattern of central and truncal distribution of fat which presents one to the risks of metabolic and lifestyle related diseases.

► There is said to be also a higher rate of gestational diabetes with “bigger babies”.

Early Onset of Obesity

Childhood obesity can cause serious psychological and medical problems such as hyperlipidemia and insulin resistance. A fat baby has 50 to 80 percent chances of growing up into a fat adult.

A review published in the Indian Journal of Medical Specialities states that the ‘thin and fat’ Indian prototype adult has a higher risk for diabetes. What the thin and fat tries to convey is that for a given body mass index (BMI), Indians have a higher percentage of body fat and more visceral fat than members of other populations.

An interesting observation cited in the study is that this thin-fat phenotype is not unique to adults in India but also among other South East Asia countires and is also present at birth. Indian babies are small in all respects but there is a scheme in their smallness. In the studies, birth weight, head circumference and height are found to be smaller, whereas soft tissues are found to be differentially affected. Protein rich soft tissues (skeletal muscle and abdominal viscera) being most affected with subcutaneous fat being more prominent and the most preserved body component.

Hence the study suggests that the propensity of the Indians for central obesity is programmed in uterus itself! Environmental and postnatal influences also deserve their due share of merit and attention. Even though that the rural Indians have more low birth weight babies, the incidence of diabetes is still rising due to the fact that it is about five times more prevalent in urban India as compared to the rural regions.

Apart from the above probable explanation, high socioeconomic class, parental obesity (which puts a child to up to 8 times at higher risk), high birth weight, rapid weight gain in early childhood, early adiposity rebound age (usually five to seven years), high adolescent weight are all factors responsible for childhood obesity.

Lifestyle changes and implications

While the predisposition to obesity can be inherited, the fact that obesity has increased strikingly so much in the last couple of decades appears to discount genetics as a major cause. Also, the fact that each succeeding generation is heavier than the last indicates that changes in our environment and lifestyle play a key role in the development of obesity.

There has been a sudden rise in the intake of oily snacks, fried foods, sugar laden cakes, pastries, biscuits, chocolates, and colas. Children have become passive and less active by being more hooked to television, computers or their cell-phones. The pressure of studies, tuitions, home work, and lack of time for playing outdoors has also contributed in making them less physically active and led to increase in the incidence of obesity.

Consuming too many calories is another major reason for this modern epidemic. This is mainly due to consumption of calorie-dense foods from fast-food eateries gulped down with fizzy cola drinks.

Excess Consumption of High-Fat or Refined Sugar Foods

The type of food eaten plays an important role in the rise of obesity. Research continues to discover new metabolic and digestive problems resulting from over consumption of trans-fats and refined white flour carbohydrates, coupled with low fiber intake. These eating patterns are known to interfere with food and energy metabolism in the body, and cause excessive fat storage over a period of time. Health problems due to such approach includes insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes. Incidence of these "modern" diseases is increasing in India and worldwide.

Reduced Energy Expenditure

People who eat more calories need to burn them as well. Otherwise the excessive calories are stored as fat.

Family Influence

Parental behavioral patterns concerning shopping, cooking, eating and exercise, have an important influence on a child''s weight and susceptibility of becoming obese. The family’s lifestyle is an important contributory cause to childhood obesity. Since obese children frequently grow up to become obese adults, family influence extends to adult obesity more often.

Genetics and heredity only contributes a small percentage to the obesity epidemic. Some of the interesting research finding in this area has been that infants born to overweight mothers have are less active and tend to gain more weight by the age of three months when compared with infants of normal weight mothers, suggesting a possible inborn link to conserve energy. Research has also shown that normal-weight children of obese parents may have a lower metabolic rate than normal-weight children of non-obese parents, which can lead to weight problems in adulthood.

However undoubtedly the major cause of this epidemic is our sedentary lifestyle and calorie dense convenient fast foods.

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