Obesity rates among children in the Asia Pacific are growing at a rapid rate and will soon pose a serious healthcare threat to countries in the region if no action is taken, according to a recent warning by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Between 2000 and 2016, the number of overweight children under five years old in the region grew by 38 percent, and these children have a higher risk of becoming obese adults and then developing diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and liver problems, the FAO said in April 2018.
To combat the threat of “diabesity” – a term used to describe the close relationship between Type 2 diabetes and obesity – governments and families need to encourage healthier diets, more active living and stress management exercises, says Dr Naaznin Husein, president of the Indian Dietetic Association’s (IDA) Mumbai chapter.
At this year’s Vitafoods Asia 2018 conference, which will take place on Sept 11 and 12 at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Dr Husein will deliver a talk titled “Beyond Diabesity and Lifestyle: An Overview of 21st Century Chronic Disease Determinants”, which will outline her research in the field and offer practical tips on reducing diabesity.
The three keys to health
To eat their way to better health, people should avoid simple carbohydrates such as sugar and include more complex carbohydrates and protein in their diet, Dr Husein said in a recent interview.
“Protein is especially important for Asian populations because a large proportion of people have bodies that are low in muscle mass and high in body fat percentage,” she said. While such people’s weight may be normal for their height, they could have ‘normal weight obesity’, or ‘skinny fatness’, and be at a higher risk of developing metabolic diseases such as diabetes.
“Eggs, lean meats, pulses and nuts are all good sources of protein, and they also create more satiety and improve muscle build-up. Nuts are especially rich in micronutrients and helpful for weight management,” Dr Husein recommended.
“Encouraging an active lifestyle is also crucial. Simple measures such as taking the stairs or walking or bicycling to work make a big difference. Encouraging people to do more of their favourite sports is also effective because they are already engaged in the activities,” she said.
The third prong in fighting diabesity is finding ways to manage stress. When people are stressed, their bodies respond by releasing higher levels of a hormone called cortisol, which gives cells access to fat and glucose, so that they can escape from the danger.
Chronic stress leads to a sustained, higher level of blood sugar that increases the risk of diabetes. Furthermore, stressed people are more likely to eat unhealthily and exercise less. “Yoga, tai chi, meditation and other exercises that emphasise mindfulness definitely help in reducing stress levels,” Dr Husein said.
Making informed choices
To encourage more people to lead healthier lifestyles, the Mumbai chapter of the IDA is embarking on a social media campaign that will explain food labels and emphasise the amount of exercise that people should do if they eat various popular dishes.
“It’s hard to tell people not to eat this or that because they will feel deprived. But if you tell them that they will need to walk for two hours to burn off the 550 calories that they gained from eating that slice of cheesecake, they may choose to walk or not eat that cheesecake. It will at least be an informed choice,” Dr Husein explained.
For more than a decade, she has worked with the non-profit Yoga Institute in India to study the effectiveness of lifestyle interventions by tracking, with their consent, the health of about 300 diabetic people who enrolled in its classes.
“We gave them advice about nutrition, exercises and mood management. Many of them who were on insulin are now off it and taking only oral hypoglycaemic drugs because they have achieved better diabetic control. They have done brilliantly, and that’s due to our holistic approach that looked at all of the factors in their lifestyle,” she said.
She summarised: “They also feel calmer and more in control of their lives. This goes to show that if you help people with their choices, and help them to decide what may be better or best for them, they can do very well.”
Attendees to Vitafoods Asia can stay abreast of the latest research into obesity and disease on life stages by attending the Life Stages Theatre, where researchers and functional food developers alike will present their research findings.
The Vitafoods Asia conference and exhibition provide visitors with a rich learning environment to discover all aspects of the development and application of nutraceuticals, through to the branding, packaging and marketing of finished products. At the conference, and at theatres inside the exhibition hall, subject matter experts and industry leaders will present, in-depth, the latest research into nutraceuticals and discuss recent trends or findings at panel discussions.