Eating to live

What would happen if more people started eating to live rather than living to eat? Would we not see more people living longer and healthier lives? Wouldn’t there be less burden on the health care system to provide care for people who are plagued with diseases related to poor diets? Would we not have more productive nations?

I recently watched a documentary on YouTube, titled ‘DOCS: The World’s Fattest Family and Me.’ It was produced in 2010 and featured British writer, television presenter and comedian Mark Nolan. He first visited one of the world’s fattest populations, a place called Tonga, which is a part of the Pacific Islands. At the time, 92% of the population was obese, which is a problem that developed within the last 40 years and part of the reason is because of cheap food imports from places like New Zealand. Their diet is made up of foods high in saturated fats. The foods include products that New Zealanders would not eat. Why would any country export the garbage they do not eat? It reminded me about the expired sardines that were sent here in 2016. Most of the people in Tonga seemed ignorant to the dangers of their diet.

Nolan then went to Mexico to meet a man who was once the world’s heaviest and then to the United States of America, where some of the people featured never ate fruits or vegetables.

A 2010 World Health Organization bulletin again named the Pacific Islands as having high numbers of obese people. A 2015 CNN article spoke about the same and mentioned that the people have turned their backs on their traditional diet of foods like fresh vegetables and fish. The diet now comprises of a plethora of processed foods, which has resulted in high incidences of diseases like diabetes.

The documentary, articles and other sources made me think about the impact globalization is having on many places, including Guyana. Just recently another fast food franchise, Burger King, opened here and triggered arguments for and against it. Many people cited the dangers of fast foods, while some thought it was a progressive move. Many places, including Mexico which was featured in the documentary, would see a rise in cases of obesity with the influx of fast food restaurants.

According to the World Health Organization, “Obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally and 2.8 million people are dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese.”

However, part of the argument in favour of fast food places such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King is that they provide employment. I agree that indeed that is a positive in a place where many people, especially youth, are finding it hard to find jobs.

But do the negatives outweigh the positives? Will the long-term effect on the health of those who choose to regularly indulge in consuming such foods hurt the society more as a whole? If people within the productive populace die or are disabled in large numbers because of diseases relating to diet, will the nation not suffer?

But what attracts people to lusting for fast foods? What drives people to stand in line for an hour and more, waiting to buy burgers or fried chicken? Admittedly such foods are often quite delicious and it is the abundance of fats, salt and sugars present in them that likely entice the taste buds. Many Guyanese would have longed to taste the foods they saw advertised on television. Sometimes it is also a matter of convenience for working people. Personally, I find it strange that anyone would stand in line for over an hour waiting to buy something like a burger or fried chicken. I hate standing in lines for food, regardless of the circumstances.

However, while the fast food culture may play a part in more people becoming overweight or obese, it is a far more complex issue than that. Many Guyanese do not exercise. Many do not incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into their daily diet. Many do not drink enough water but instead drink too many sodas and alcohol. Many people overeat because food is available. With Christmas just passed most of us are probably guilty of that. Many do not regularly visit doctors to check on the status of their health.

When I see young people dying from heart related issues, suffering from hypertension, type 2 diabetes and other diseases that were once thought to be diseases primarily affecting the elderly, I believe that we are heading into a crisis if we are not there already. Imagine having a stroke in your thirties. I observe young men in their early twenties with abdominal obesity (beer bellies) that were previously seen predominantly on older men. This is something that I have observed in recent years. Most of the people I see dying from natural as well as other causes are young and middle-aged people and I am wondering if soon old age would have to be defined as the ‘fifties’ because it appears that many people are not living beyond that.

Diet and exercise are personal. People are going to live as they please and it is their right. Some, like folks featured in the documentary are ignorant about the facts about what they are consuming and how it can affect their health. Many were never taught what comprises a healthy diet, while others say they will die anyway and therefore will indulge in eating as much of whatever they can without caring about the consequences.

Eating to live is looking at food like it is your medicine. Many people wait until they become sick before attempting to change their diet. Why wait? Common sense tells us that prevention is better than cure. Life is too short to spend it with ill-health, especially when it can be avoided. It starts with small steps like exercising and watching portions and calories in the foods we consume. Embracing a more plant based diet. Part of the problem also is that many people have a sedentary lifestyle. Some folks need to get out of their offices, vacate the seats in front the television or computer, take a step out of the vehicles and practice walking, jogging or riding a bike or whatever form of exercise they may prefer. The excuse of many people is that they do not have enough time, but if one dies from a diet related illness that could have been avoided, time is gone forever and regrets from the grave will change nothing.