Writer and columnist Anupam Srivastava expresses his concern over the growing numbers of fat people in India, in this installment of LifeSport.

Feminine laughter emanated from a dark corner of the street, and my wife and I saw a gaggle of women moving along slowly. We were out on our evening walk, and watched with surprise as the people in the gathering became suddenly visible in the streetlight. To our surprise, there were only four!

Being overweight is a health risk

But they looked like so many more, because of their size. Being so overweight, they occupied the space meant for more. Though it’s been some months since we saw them, they sometimes come up in our discussion as personifications of the obesity epidemic that has overpowered the people of India. Alas, even the young have not been spared.

BMI is the measure

Measuring the Body Mass Index (BMI) is the most accepted way of defining a person as obese. This can be calculated by dividing your height, by your weight. Because Indians have more body fat than Westerners, the cut off values are lower for them. A BMI of 23 or more puts you in the overweight category.

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Rise in number of overweight Indians

National data gathered by the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS 4) holds a mirror to my reflections on the street that night.  The survey found that obesity among Indians has risen by 17% in the past decade. Today, nearly 39% of Indians are obese. This is particularly bad news, since obesity increases the risk of contracting lifestyle diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Affluenza breeds ill-health

To a large extent, obesity among Indians is linked to affluence. Affluence without the motivation or awareness to use it well is a waste of opportunity. And when it takes a turn for the worse, we can call it Affluenza. Since avoidance of hardship is the main concern of those struck by Affluenza, laziness becomes inevitable.

This condition breeds the habit of shopping for gadgets and other items that provide a temporary high, but don’t lead to health.

The walking shoes stay buried in the closet

While the affluent but aware lot will never skip a walk in the neighbourhood park or a visit to the gym, those afflicted by affluenza tend to complain about the weather all the time.

This enables them to skip all activity, unless the weather is perfect. Since perfect weather is rare in the tropics, they spend much of their time indoors. The fancy running shoes bought to incite envy remain unused.

Local walks are out of the question, since using the high speed car in the driveway is more important.

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Take-away replaces home food

Then, there is much more money to spare for take-aways and eat-outs. In fact, I believe take-aways take the cake as a detriment to good health. The allure of food is such that the crowds that once thronged take-away joints on weekends, now hang around daily.

It is hard to find someone who is not overweight at these places. Equally alarming, is the sight of so many young and balding men. All this is indicative of bad health, linked to growing affluence.

Stress levels are also at an all time high, since work hours are long, and there’s no time to unwind. Eating restaurant and dhaba cooked food is easier in this circumstance.

Foreverfit- Sedentary job

Sedentary jobs with no scope for movement

Perhaps poor eating habits and the lack of fitness is due to the malaise of modern life. People are required to spend their days in front of a computer, and end up feeling unenergetic and despondent. There’s no motivation to exercise, or give up eating samosas and pizzas.

Though organisations are waking up the need to promote employees’ health, it may take a while before workplace policies reflect this.

It all comes down to you

Ultimately, the onus to stay fit and healthy lies with each one of us. Let’s face it, you can’t be happy without being healthy. So make some changes that guarantee you a healthier future. Use your walking shoes, and invest in a fitness app that keeps you moving.

Get yourself a fitness buddy, to motivate you into sticking to an exercise routine. And if you sit all day, remember to eat less. Go for home-made food, and make sure you don’t end up digging into a dish of butter chicken too often.

Anupam Srivastava is the author of The Brown Sahebs, a novel. He is a keen sportsman.