Whether you blame the increasing irregularities of our lifestyle, or our excessive eating habits, the reality is that, like any other developing country, obesity has been increasing in Pakistan by leaps and bounds, affecting all segments of the population. While we fear death by violence or accident, the truth is that far more people are killed each year as a result of diet related diseases than by homicide. According to the International Obesity Task Force, each year, 2.5 million people around the world die after falling prey to obesity. The World Heart Federation claims that obesity will overtake tobacco smoking as the biggest cause of heart disease unless people make some drastic changes to their lifestyle.

The most frightening aspect of this epidemic is that it does not target only the middle-aged. Thanks to the prevalence of junk food and a sedentary lifestyle, children too are falling victim to obesity. According to research studies conducted by WHO, obese or overweight adults, as well as children, are much more likely to suffer from Type II diabetes, heart disease and hypertension than their lower weight peers.

In Pakistan, a study conducted by the Department of Health Sciences, Aga Khan University, Karachi, showed that the prevalence of obesity was 11 per cent for men and 19 per cent for women in rural areas and climbed up to 23 per cent for men and 40 per cent for women in urban areas; this trend has drastically increased over the past couple of years. Another study conducted by experts showed that 10 to 15 per cent children in rural areas and 20 to 25 per cent in urban areas were obese.

Obesity at a young age is as deadly as any other major illness; hence it needs to be dealt with as early as possible. The tendency to gain weight along with a love for food or bad eating habits is often inherited from parents, ultimately leading to obesity.

Obesity does not affect only a person's health; it can damage one's entire personality. An obese person often suffers feelings of low self esteem as such people are often looked down upon by their colleagues and friends. Society can be very harsh in its treatment of the overweight, and obese people often have to face rejection. Alina, 23, developed a love for fast-food at the age of fifteen and did not realise that she was, literally, eating herself to death. Now, weighing over 190 pounds, she feels extremely depressed; insecure about her future and suffering from a sense of rejection.

One does not need to become a member of a fashionable club or gym or visit expensive nutritionists in order to stay healthy; according to experts, an hour-long walk, daily, preferably in fresh air and a little bit of exercise is just about all that a person needs to stay fit. In case of children, parents need to encourage them to get involved in sports and outdoor games, and cut down the time they spend in front of the TV and the computer.

People suffering from weight issues are often tempted to take shortcuts by going on crash diets in order to achieve rapid weight loss without working out or exercise. According to Yogi Wajahat, a yoga expert and therapist, “People usually come to me for solutions to their obesity related problems and very often ask for pills that could help them lose weight effortlessly. Crash dieting is never recommended as a way to lose weight as it is unhealthy and very rarely successful in the long run.”

We need to realise that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Hence we need to think about changes in our lifestyle and in this regard, children should be considered the priority population to begin with. According to Fayza Khan, Vice President of Pakistan Nutrition and Dietetic Society, “Both adults and children should maintain a healthy diet plan and take some time out of their busy schedule for some kind of physical activity”. She further adds that awareness should be created through media so people can learn more about living a healthy life. Last but not the least, we all need to adopt the maxim that one should eat to live, not live to eat.

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