Obesity in India – time to wake up to the reality of a medical and financial burden

The narrative is in the numbers – prevalence rates of obesity in India are growing faster than the global average. With around 9.8 million obese men and 20 million obese women, India is ranked at an unenviable 5th and 3rd, respectively, in the global obese population index. The ballooning numbers are an ominous indication – future generations of obese children are likely to have glucose intolerance, diabetes mellitus type 2, and high blood pressure. This is further compounded by the fact that high blood pressure, the “silent killer,” exposes individuals to an elevated risk of heart disease, stroke, and organ damage – silently.

We need to step out of our echo chambers.

We love to believe that all is well, that we’ve got things under control. But clearly, the numbers are not on our side. This needs to serve as a clarion call for concerted efforts to bring the numbers within control. A global study by WHO has established the link between high mortality rates and obesity. The conditions that manifest due to obesity also include high levels of LDL cholesterol, low levels of HDL cholesterol, and coronary heart diseases, among others. This should put all doubts to rest, and to make matters worse – most conditions are lifelong. This will impact the quality of life, with the baggage of burdens – costs, time, and the discomfort associated with ailments. 

Obesogenic environments and the need for awareness beyond slogans

Hard times call for strict measures and interventions. It is a fact that awareness of issues and actions seem to be the polar opposite of each other. Individuals may be aware of a problem, but very little is done about it more often than not. This needs to change with a sense of urgency. We seriously lack adequate exercise, and our dietary preferences are driven by various factors, such as preparation time, taste, and an increasing acceptance of social media influencer posts. The digital way of life has altered routines, reducing the opportunity for movements. All of this contributes to an obesogenic environment.

Our eternal search for a quick fix has made matters worse.

A deluge of factually incorrect, unsubstantiated information mostly cleverly designed to promote quick-fix solutions seems to have found takers. The internet is now a repository of e-books and clickbait articles with a “shock and awe” angle that seemingly offers “incredible or amazing” results. From diets that assure calorific deficits to pills that promise almost overnight results, programs have hooked gullible audiences. While it is true that specific programs are good for weight management or to reduce weight to a certain extent, the claims often go overboard. Consequently, the individual ends up extending the grip of obesity.

Evidence-based procedures that offer credible outcomes

Many success stories of the transformation of obese individuals are mainly attributed to proven surgical procedures – bariatric surgery and metabolic surgery – that work in tandem with a prescribed treatment regimen. Lifestyle changes and dietary modifications that precede and follow surgical interventions have proven results. Weight reduction or control procedures require an approach based on various parameters, appropriate methods with fully aligned perioperative and postoperative care. Arya Permana’s story of reducing 110 kgs and Darci Hanson’s weight loss of 90 kgs through surgical procedures are viral examples of success stories. Successful outcomes of surgical intervention hinge on various factors – the quality of infrastructure, advanced equipment, the expertise of medical professionals, and processes.

With the proper screening and procedure by a Laparoscopic expert Surgeon, it is possible to turn the clock back to good health. Unknown to many, the obesity clock is turning steadily to a tipping point, and it is necessary to move away from the wrong side. Individuals with a body mass index of 40 and above belong to extreme obesity and are exposed to very high-risk levels of serious complications.

The need for timely procedures to treat obesity has acquired a sense of urgency as obese individuals are at a higher risk of hospitalization from COVID. Studies conducted globally have established the link between obesity and COVID. Obese patients are more likely in need of treatment in ICUs when afflicted with the virus. This could worsen other comorbidities, posing a severe health condition. It is time to decide on a suitable response to reduce risk levels through timely treatment. It is time for obese individuals to look beyond easily perceived changes in appearance to serious medical complications.

Harish Haridas, The author, is the Vice-Chairman and Executive Director of Lords Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram.

NB: The content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals.


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