The world is facing a severe health crisis – a weighty one, that is. The obesity epidemic has grabbed headlines globally; hitting an unprecedented 640 million obese adults and if this trend continues, one in five people will be obese by 2025.
Read on to find out what YOU can do to prevent obesity!
A Global Epidemic
Countries across the continuum of development are grappling with this public health issue. Humans are getting heavier at accelerated rates and this has not shown any signs of slowing down. The Lancet recently published findings from a study analysing the trends of body mass index (BMI) from 1698 studies among 19.2 million adults in 200 countries from 1975 to 2014. The sheer magnitude of obesity on a global scale was highlighted; in four decades, global obesity had more than tripled among men and doubled in women. According to the authors, a global network of researchers dedicated to research on non-communicable diseases, the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration, there are now more obese individuals than underweight. Nearly 40% of the world’s adults are overweight or obese, that’s 2 in 5 adults. Definitely record-breaking statistics not to celebrate.
Drivers for this exponential rise of global weight gain are multi-factorial. Increased affluence, increasing availability and overconsumption of unhealthy foods and growing sedentary lifestyles (be it at work, play or transport) in this obesogenic (obesity-promoting) environments have contributed to the population’s shift towards higher BMIs. Being overweight and obese is a strong predictor for the rise in diabetes worldwide. Besides the host of other physical health problems such as respiratory and joint problems, cardiovascular disease and cancers that may arise, the psychosocial consequences of being fat cannot be undermined.
Malaysia is no exception to the burgeoning rates of obesity with recent news of our civil workforce being among the heaviest in the region. Recent findings from the Fifth National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS V) in 2015 reported that close to 30% of adults were obese. Among those aged 18 years and below, childhood obesity prevalence is increasing at alarming rates with nearly 12% identified as obese. Already, diagnosis of diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases among those aged 18 to 30 years is not uncommon. Imagine the healthcare burden to the individuals, families, workplaces and the nation at large. Surely not a future we’d desire.
While the effects of changes to trade and economic policies at national and regional levels remain to be seen, let’s be the change you want to see. To begin with, we’ve identified 11 common habits that promote obesity and what you can do to overcome them as individuals and as families based on four evidence-based pillars: healthy eating, physical activity, adequate sleep and support.
Read on for 11 excuse-proof ways to fight the bulge!
Be An Overcomer!
#1: I have no time or appetite for breakfast
Solution: In the madness of the morning rush, it’s easy to skip breakfast. However, after a night of ‘fasting’, we need to refuel our bodies. Having breakfast helps us concentrate better and prevents us from overeating at our next meal. Healthy breakfasts can be easy and quick to prepare (kids’ edition here) and be a delicious start to your day! In a rush? Here are some nutritious grab-and-go brekkie ideas: a banana, a cup of yoghurt or wholegrain crackers with dips. If you have more time to spare, why not try these delish, healthy recipes - blueberry muffins, smoothie bowls, quinoa and chia seed loaf (fruits or scrambled eggs make great toppings!) or paleo pancakes. For breast-feeding mums, give this energy-boosting breakfast a go!
#2: Help! I always end up eating too much rice and not enough vegetables
Solution: Here’s a guide to help you with this portion distortion – The Healthy Eating Plate by the Harvard School of Public Health. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with wholegrains and another quarter with proteins. Consuming adequate fibre from fruits and vegetables not only keeps us satiated, it helps us manage our weight and aids in digestion. Moreover, a plant-based diet has shown to reduce your risk of certain types of cancers.
Eating following the right portions will help you focus on the quality and quantity of what you consume. Vary what’s on your plate, chew your food for longer, be mindful and focus on your food rather than watching movies, reading or working while you eat, take slightly less food than what you think you'll eat and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how satiated you'll feel while getting the important nutrients you need! With portion control in check, go ahead and enjoy your meal! Looking for healthy places to eat? Check out PurelyB’s directory - we have a growing portfolio of healthy places to eat in different cities across Asia.
#3: Sugary drinks taste great and drinking plain water is so difficult!
Solution: Sugar-sweetened beverages include instant beverages, soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, flavoured milk and cordials. These have tonnes of hidden calories and have shown to negatively impact our health. Need a pick-me-up? Try herbal infusions as healthier alternatives or these six caffeine-free ways. Drink water to keep hydrated. Try adding mint, cucumber or lemon slices to add zest to this natural thirst-quencher! Here is a list of infused water ideas for you to experiment with. Aim to drink at least 2 litres of water daily.
#4: I tend to get hungry between meals – what should I do?
Solution:It's a given that each of our metabolic rate differs. When you feel your hunger pangs, try drinking a glass of water first before you reach out for a snack. Sometimes, your brain may confuse thirst for hunger. Snacks like candies, chips and fritters aren’t difficult to find and are notoriously high in sugar, sodium and fats, not to mention, the insidious synthetic colourings, additives and preservatives. Before you grab them and take them to the counter, ask yourself these two simple questions: “What is it made of?” and “Is it good for me?”. Thinking of what may be healthy snack ideas? Choose from nuts, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds or pack a bag of baby carrots, celery, cucumber and cherry tomatoes. Remember, snacks are not meal replacements so, moderation is key!
#5: I enjoy late-night suppers!
Solution:For many of us, the late evening or night is the best time to catch up, chill and enjoy meals with friends and families. Making time for friendships and relationships we value are undoubtedly important. In the midst of the meaningful conversations, laughter, fun and delicious meals, do yourselves a favour – have dinner at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime to give your body adequate time to digest your meals and prevent overeating. Before you head to your fridge for a late-night snack, learn how you can deal with fake hunger pangs.
#6: My kids love fast food!
Solution:Frequent consumption of fast foods which are high in sugars, sodium and fats has driven the rising childhood obesity rates. Retraining eating behaviour is no easy task but is not impossible. Observing and helping your child understand their eating behaviours and then explaining the dangers of overconsuming fast food are baby steps to take towards healthful eating. Be a role model and encourage your child to brainstorm and prepare their own healthy versions of burgers, wraps and smoothies. When rewarding kids, refrain from using fast food or sugary drinks as incentive for good grades, behaviour or accomplishments. This may lead them to associate good conduct and achievements with these (unhealthy) meals and develop the wrong perception that these foods and drinks are good for them. We’d suggest to reinforce good behavior with encouragement or praise and if you’d like, a score system where they accumulate scores towards an outing or buying an educational or recreational item.
#7: Shopping for healthy food is so expensive!
Solution:Let’s unpack that claim, shall we? While our individual definitions of expensive may vary, take a moment to reflect on what we fill our shopping carts with. Whether you choose to go organic or not, the decision is ultimately yours and your family’s to make. The key here is to think of the long term return on investments for your entire family. I personally have observed that fresh produce like vegetables and fruits (important dietary fibre sources we don’t eat enough of!) are value for money. Reduce your carbon footprint and support local produce whenever possible.
Shop wisely, remember when the buying stops, the eating does, too. This may be a good time to do a health audit of what’s stored in your kitchen cupboards, refrigerator and freezer – say goodbye to foods high in sugar, salt and fats and sugary drinks. Minimise your purchase of processed foods as these are the most likely culprits of a high grocery bill. Going vegetarian and vegan can be wallet-friendly, more so when you prepare your own, healthy meals. For a start, try going meatless on Mondays. On a budget? Here are 10 tips to eat raw and vegan affordably.
#8: Getting enough, quality sleep is hard to come by these days
Solution:With our hectic schedules and having to balance personal, work and family commitments, getting enough sleep can be a luxury for some. For our health’s sake, we all need between 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. It is important to note that having too little (< 7 hours) or too much (> 9 hours) of sleep can be detrimental. A sleep deficit affects our hormones including our hunger and satiety-related hormones ghrelin and leptin, which may result in overeating. On days when enough sleep is elusive, here are some survival tips. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, try doing yoga for a good night’s rest. To help you further, here are more tips to get better sleep.
#9: We spend hours working and/or unwinding in front of our computers, tablets, smart phones and televisions – does this matter?
Solution:In a fast-paced, technology-driven society, I often wonder how our grandparents coped back when they were young! Our dependence on gadgets have grown enormously- just notice how most of our daily tasks requires electronic devices. A necessary evil? Maybe. Prolonged sitting time is harmful to our health though; here are ways to be active at work to de-stress. Work aside, spend your leisure time gadget-free. It’s sad to observe today how families or friends sitting at eateries are so engrossed in their gadgets instead of speaking to each other. Make meal times ‘no-gadgets time’ (unless absolutely necessary!). Be present and spend time conversing and engaging with each other.
Encourage your kids to take screen breaks, organise fun play dates and let them explore their creative sides in music, dance, baking, arts and crafts, building their Lego empires or planning their own treasure hunt. You’ll be amazed at what they come up with!
#10: I don’t have the motivation to exercise!
Solution:We all have days where we find it a struggle to don our active wear and work out. We've put together helpful tips to get you motivated. Having a support structure to keep healthy, whether it be eating right or staying fit definitely motivates you to develop a healthy lifestyle. Join a class or a community to exercise together. Choose something you’ll enjoy, there are plenty of options out there; from cross-fitters, yogis to runners and hikers. Trust us, it’s fun working out together and the motivation to exercise regularly will grow on you. Aim for at least 30 - 45 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise at least 5 days every week.
#11: How do I get my family to exercise more?
Solution:Make exercise a fun activity for the entire family. Plan your weekend family outings outside the shopping mall. Go enjoy and explore the outdoors, encourage your kids to play, run and be physically active for 30 minutes for 5 days weekly. These can be an accumulation of 10-minute bouts of activity. Let them pick something they enjoy, better still, join them! Try rock climbing, swimming, Zumba, bubble football, trampolining, tossing a Frisbee around or have a (healthy) picnic at the waterfalls or by the beach. These make great photo opportunities and memories, too! A family that plays together, stays together!
Build your support structure and focus on a healthy eating or physical activity goal each week. Make gradual changes and press on! Together, we can fight obesity! Cheers to a healthier and happier you!