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 ‘Waist’ Food

- Obesity in Urban Women aged 35+


Surabhi Khosla


exercise.jpg (95966 bytes)
Doctors recommend an exercise regimen for women over-35 

Obesity in the over-35 urban Indian women is causing serious concern to the medical fraternity. Sedentary city lifestyles, rich food, lack of exercise, a gradual slowing down of the metabolic rate are playing havoc with the waist-to-hip circumference, according to a new research.

A growing number of urban Indian women aged 35+ are falling victim to sedentary city lifestyles, rich food, lack of exercise and a gradual slowing down of the metabolic rate. A study conducted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India, reveals that in cities - especially in north India - over 50 per cent women and 40 per cent men aged 35+ are overweight. Their ratio of weight-to-height and waist-to-hip circumference is higher than in rural areas. The study formed a part of multi-centric survey of the risk factors of heart disease organised by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Obesity in urban women is causing serious concern to the medical fraternity. Excessive weight in women is being seen as the cause of related diseases like diabetes, cardio-vascular ailments and high blood pressure. "It is imperative for women to have a strict control over their diets and follow an exercise regimen to avoid coronary complications as all these diseases have a direct bearing on the heart," says Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, professor of cardiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences [AIIMS].

In the case of overweight expectant mothers the problem gets complicated as the child could fall prey to similar diseases and run the risk of coronary ailment, says Dr. Reddy. Going strictly by international standards, the study has revealed that in the 35-59 year age-group, 48.7 percent of urban Indian women in north India are 'Apple Shaped' (bulging belly, defined by the ratio of waist-to-hip circumference). In contrast, only 33.9 percent rural women in north India are overweight.

Excess Fat

According to Dr. Reddy, excess fat deposit in a woman's body can also give rise to pancreatic problems, gall stones, cancer of the uterus, osteoporosis and serious interruption in the sleep pattern. "Some of these ailments cannot be detected in the initial stages, but they trouble a woman in her middle age when the body's resistance starts weakening."

The study confirms the findings of another research conducted in 1998 by Personal Point - a chain of fitness centres across the country - which revealed that city-based women in India are more prone to obesity than their western counterparts. According to this study as well, the two main culprits were rich and oily food and lack of physical work or exercise.

The 1998 study was done on a cross section of women from across seven Indian metros and ten smaller towns. It's findings suggested that women from villages and smaller towns are healthier and far more balanced in their Body Mass Index.

"Women in rural areas have to do a lot more manual chores because of an absence of electronic gadgets. Washing clothes, scrubbing floors, lighting fire, carrying water from distances, which are strenuous exercises, ensure that any excess calorie intake is burnt immediately," says Dr. Shobha Kaul, managing director, Personal Point Care.

In cities, says the report, automation has replaced most of the manual chores. Adds Dr. Shobha Kaul, "You have washing machines, vacuum cleaners, food processors, mixers and grinders and microwaves. These gadgets in minutes do the work which used to take hours of manual labour. Thus no calories are burnt in household chores and women usually have a lot of spare time which they spend in front of a TV usually with a snack."


Contributory Factors

More surprisingly, the study reveals that besides these commonly known aspects, the other contributory factors for increasing waistlines and broader hips in women over 35 may be lack of sexual drive in their respective husbands.

In many case, women respondents have admitted that their partners reach home late and are tired and stressed out about their business or job. They usually have their dinner and go straight to bed. The woman who craves for attention feels deprived and unwanted. When this pattern persists she feels the man is no longer paying any attention to her and she loses interest in looking good and goes on a food binge.

Most of the fat, especially in the case of women, is deposited around the waist and thighs, which makes them vulnerable to heart diseases. In some cases fat layers may remain hidden and not show up as obesity. But the existence of such layers can be equally serious and in some cases even more grave.

According to Dr. Reddy of the AIIMS, exercising is the best mechanism for over-35 urban women to cut down weight. "It is not advisable for her to do muscle toning exercises. She should, instead do light stretching exercise which would even up the fat deposit in abdominal areas," says Dr. Reddy.

Doctors also advocate a balanced and nutritious diet, which is fibre-rich and fat-restricted and has calories commensurate with the activity-profile of the woman.Concludes Dr. Kaul, "Dietary habits are far more important than genes - as far as obesity and related diseases are concerned. Just as we teach kids not to waste food, we need to teach women who are over 35 not to 'waist' food."



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