Muzamil Murtaza Choudhry
“The stigma around mental health among Indians has created a barrier for Indians looking to seek mental health care and a dearth of Indian mental health providers. I am an Indian-American. I grew up in a close-knit family with my parents and grandparents, and I noticed this stigma in my family. However, I also noticed the discrepancy between this stigma and my family’s and Indians’ high regard for yoga and its spiritual benefits. National SAMSA’s platform enables me to reach South Asians, especially young South Asians who are already interested in health, to raise awareness about the stigma around mental health and the power of yoga to help break it.”
The global influence of media and technology on our culture has been prevalent for several decades. As a result the impact has had progressive influences such as on gender-equality & infectious-disease awareness. All of these are wonderful and progressive influences in our developing society. But unfortunately some destructive influences have invaded the minds and lifestyles of tens of millions of Pakistanis; obesity being one of them. The advent of delivery apps, western fast-food franchises, bombardment of commercials for the newest dessert or savory snack has caused an epidemic overnight of poor nutritional decision-making. But even more shocking is the skyrocketing rate of obesity among the poorer classes. Though obesity was thought to be an issue of decadence among the affluent, this is unfortunately no longer the case.
23% of the entire population of Pakistan are now clinically obese according to the WHO. That’s nearly 1 in 4 people. The prevalence is even higher in urban areas, with a shocking 62% of residents of being either overweight or obese as well1.
The most heartbreaking statistic is that the fastest-growing rate of obesity is found in primary-school aged children. 16% of children in this age-range are now obese, that equals 10 million children in Pakistan2 3. Even while the raising of cost of living and inflation crippling society recently, the supply and diversity of junk-foods and sugary beverages has never been greater. Children from lower socio-economic backgrounds can still afford these goods and often rely on them to stay fed during school-days.
One difficult issue has to do with the warped attitude towards what is considered healthy and unhealthy. Looking physically bigger is seen as a sign of attractiveness and wealth, implying they are not suffering from malnutrition. Contrast this to the poorest segments of society that often most malnourished and underweight. But what many fail to understand is that being obese and being malnourished are not exclusive. Eating a diet that consists mostly of refined sugars, vegetable oils, and simple carbs (the biggest culprits of weight-gain) will still show major nutritional deficiencies upon testing.
What’s worrying is that many health professionals in Pakistan often do not address nutrition nor emphasize physical activity. Often times diet advice revolves around eating less, but not actually changing the content of food consumed. This incomplete advice has only caused apathy among the most at-risk population. In one such study, 73% of obese people surveyed in Pakistan thought their weight was not a major issue related to their health problems they faced4.
These worrying opinions and apathy is having severe consequences that should not go unnoticed. Pakistan now has the dubious distinction of having the 3rd highest number of people living with diabetes in the entire world5. Only China and India, the two most populated countries have a higher proportional rate. Awareness in schools and among health-professionals is necessary to implement change.
References for statistics:
4.Bhanji S, Khuwaja AK, Siddiqui F, Azam I, Kazmi K. Underestimation of weight and its associated factors among overweight and obese adults in Pakistan: a cross sectional study. BMC Public Health. May 23 2011;11(1):363.