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Fight that fat with a fitness regime

The New Straits Times, December 23, 2001

By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

BEGINNING with Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, the nation will go through waves of festivities until the end of February. Soon it will be Christmas, then New Year, next Thaipusam, Gong Xi Fa Cai and finally Hari Raya Aidil Adha. At such festivities Malaysians exhibit a unique sense of togetherness, meeting friends from diverse cultural backgrounds in the true Malaysian spirit.

However, different people seem to have different notions of fun. For example, some insist on firing crackers knowing full well that the items are banned due to their hazardous nature. As a result every year we read about preventable injuries and even deaths related to the use of fire-crackers.

There are others who drink one too many while enjoying themselves, courting many hazards, especially when it is coupled with driving. Some even use drugs as indicated in recent tests conducted on bus drivers. Still others simply overeat.

Perhaps this is the most common interpretation of "fun" while celebrating any festival. For some, overeating is a consequence of changing moods during festive seasons. Given the variety of food available during the many open houses, it is difficult not to indulge.

Especially when there is no apparent immediate danger as such (apart from the possibility of food poisoning and feelings of discomfort).

But over-eating is the cause of many illnesses, notably leading to overweight and obesity. Many reports consistently point to the fact that obesity is now on the rise.

Worldwide, it is rapidly becoming a health concern, even perhaps a problem of epidemic proportions. The problem is more prevalent in urban than rural areas.

According to one review in Medical Progress (September, 2001), even more alarming is the rising trend among children in the Asia-Pacific region. And as obesity increases, so does mortality. One website notes it may soon "pass tobacco as the No 1 killer" (www.obesityweek.org).

Obesity is associated with stroke, heart damage and diabetes (type 2), by a factor as high as four times. Other risks include high blood pressure, kidney and gall bladder disorders, osteoarthritis and various cancers, namely post-menopausal breast cancer, and that of the endometrium, kidney and colon, according to the review.

Undoubtedly, obesity and overweight is directly related to eating more food than the body can cope with, especially high-calorie stuff. When this happens, the body tends to store the excess as fat. Compounding this is increasingly sedentary lifestyles.

Logically, therefore, a change in lifestyle is one of the preferred ways to reduce, if not prevent obesity. This includes a proper exercise regime to increase calorie expenditure especially following hearty meals.

Exercise complemented with good eating habits can speed up weight loss and reduce or prevent obesity. An appropriate diet is not only balanced but can result in an energy deficit of as much as 500 to 600 calories per day.

In lowering energy intake, reducing dietary fat consumption can be targeted more easily, assuming that fat contains the highest concentration of calories per gramme of food. Currently there seems to be no evidence that "diets consisting of only certain major food groups are more effective than a healthy balanced diet". If unsure, ask for professional advice from dieticians.

In addition, where appropriate, one could also alter one's meal times. For example, rescheduling the frequency of meals, pacing eating, as well as focusing on attitudes and lifestyles. Avoiding situations where there is a tendency to overeat can be a good strategy.

Apart from this, there are anti-obesity drugs which either act on the digestive system to reduce food (especially fats) absorbed into the body system; or by acting on the brain to decrease appetite. But drugs are normally used as complementary therapy; and their choice should be made only on the recommendation of health professionals.

Currently, there are many products advertised and promoted directly to the consumers which claim to be effective weight losing agents. In most cases, there is no mention whether the claims have been scientifically documented and validated, and endorsed by the proper governmental authority. So be cautious before deciding to use such products.

Thus while we rightly want to have fun during the many coming festive celebrations, we must not lose sight of our health and turn fun-filled occasions into nightmares. A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

* For more information contact The National Poison Centre at Universiti Sains Malaysia, tel. 04-6570099, fax. 04-6568417, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Recommended site: www.obesity-diet.com 

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