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Growing Obesity Shows Influence Of Consumerism And Erosion Of Punjabi Culture And Values

DR. SAWRAJ SINGH
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS / EDITORIAL
A leading Punjabi newspaper recentlypublished a study on obesity in India.The World Health Organization (WHO)defines obesity as a body-mass index(BMI) of greater than 30. It is small wonderthat Punjab has the dubious distinctionof being the leader in this field.I feel there is a clear relationship betweenobesity and erosion of culture and valuesystem. Punjab certainly leads India inthose fields. I have been saying this forthe last several years that the effect ofglobalization and consumer culture is themost in Punjab and as a result, Punjabhas suffered the most in terms of culturalerosion and loss of values. This studyonly demonstrates what was obvious tome long before this study. Unfortunately,as of today, there is no study which canmeasure loss of culture and values. Wehave to depend on indirect evidence suchas rates of divorce, depression, crime,etc.Our health and relations, to a large extentdepend on our lifestyle. Lifestyle dependsupon our culture and values. Therefore,our culture and values strongly affect ourhealth. Obesity is directly related to ourhealth. Not only heart disease, diabetes,and other diseases associated with metabolicsyndrome are related to obesity, butit affects just about every other diseasesuch as respiratory diseases, cancer, andarthritis. Obesity reduces available oxygento cells and some scientists eventhink that it reduces immunity.Therefore, obesity makes use more susceptibleto all diseases.The study on obesity clearly showed arelationship between obesity and consumerculture.For example, an increase in the numberof cars, TVs, and computers is associatedwith increased rates of obesity. In thelast decade, there has been an 83%increase in the availability of these consumergoods. In this field, Punjab has leftthe rest of the country far behind. Nowonder then that Punjab also leads inobesity rates.Among the 28 states in the study, Punjabis at the top. 30.3% of young men inPunjab are obese. When we compare thisfigure with our neighboring state, thenwe get the feeling that this is not aregional problem. This is a specific problemof Punjab. The incidence of obesityin adjoining states: Haryana 14.4%, J&K(Jammu and Kashmir) 8.7%, andHimachal Pradesh 16%.When the question arises that why doesPunjab lead the country and why it leadsthe region, then the only logical answerwe can think of is that because Punjableads the country and the region in westernizationand adoption of western consumeristcapitalist culture. Punjab has apopulation which is about 2% of thecountry, yet it has about 8% of the totalcars in the country. I am sure that Punjabhas many times more marriage palaces,restaurants, and fast food chains than itsshare of the population. The same can besaid of consumer goods like TVs, smartphones,and computers.Punjabis need any excuse to party and toeat and drink. If one goes to a marriagepalace, then one gets the impression thata very solemn occasion has been transformedinto an orgy of eating and drinking.There used to be only one big partyassociated with marriage. Now, somefamilies have between six and eight partiesassociated with marriage such as thering ceremony or the engagement party.Besides these parties, there are Roka(commitment), Ladies Sangeet, andreceptions. During all of these parties,eating and drinking with deafening musicin the background is on the top of theagenda.Besides gluttony, extravagance is becomingthe leading characteristic of Punjabis.Each Punjabi seems to be in a race tooutshine the others. No one wants to beleft behind. In addition to spending somuch and wasting unnecessary food anddrink during the marriages, giving a car inthe dowry has almost become a standardin the Punjabi community.The car, once a symbol of the elite, hasnow become a hallmark of the middleclass. Only poor people are exempt fromgiving a car in dowry, they have to settlefor a motorcycle. The world survey onobesity by the Organisation forEconomic Co-operation andDevelopment (OECD) shows that generally,obesity is a problem of the developedcountries of the west and oil-richcountries of the Middle East; and Asiannations have the least obesity problem.The incidences of obesity in Japan,Korea, Indonesia and China are between1% and 4%. The Top 10 obese countries:1. Mexico (32.8%)2. United States (31.8%)3. New Zealand (26.5%)4. Chile (25.1%)5. Australia (24.6%)6. Canada (24.2%)7. United Kingdom (23%)8. Ireland (23%)9. Luxembourg (22.1%)10. Finland (20.2%)There are few exceptions such as Mexicoand Punjab. I feel that in the case ofMexico, the cause may be due more todiet since there is very limited access tohealthy food for the vast majority of people.However in Punjab and other partsof a country like India, the cause for obesitycan also be attributed to the wideninggap between the haves and have-nots. Obesity is generally confined tothat segment of populationwhich in some way benefitsfrom globalization, whereas thepopulation which is deprived ofthose benefits is mostly underweight.Why is Punjab differentthan the rest of India? I feelthat there are two reasons forthis. The first: Punjab has beenaffected the most by the phenomenaof westernization andcultural erosion. The second: inthe rest of the country, the benefitsof globalization are mostlyconfined to the upper middleclass. However, in Punjab, thelower middle class, particularlyof a rural background, has benefitted!Due to immigration, theforeign money sent back hasenabled this class to purchasecars, TVs, smartphones, andcomputers, consumer goodswhich are generally available tothe upper middle class in otherparts of the country.This segment of the populationin Punjab is doubly hit. On onehand, it is consuming morecalories by excessive drinkingand eating.On the other hand, its lifestylehas become more sedentary,which further aggravates theproblem of obesity. Still anotherfactor which is contributingto obesity among young men inPunjab is a gross lack of regularphysical exercise. Many peasantshave hired help frommigrants who come fromEastern U.P. or Bihar.These people mostly do manualwork in the Punjabis’ fields.Many Punjabi young men arenow divorced from Kirat (honestand productive work).Sri Guru Granth Sahib advocatesthree fundamental tasks oflife: Kirat Karo (Engage in honestand productive work), NamJapo (Enlighten yourself spiritually),Wand Chako (Share withothers). Sri Guru Granth Sahibalso advocates moderation andrestraint. Moderation in eatingand sleeping is preached.Indulging in eating and becomingobese is considered adeplorable lifestyle.In my view, Sri Guru GranthSahib laid the foundation ofwhat is best in Punjabi cultureand values. Sri Guru GranthSahib promotes a healthylifestyle. Instead of becomingvictims of consumerist capitalistculture, we should seek guidancefrom these principles.Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. isthe Chairman of the WashingtonState Network for Human Rightsand Chairman of the CentralWashington Coalition for SocialJustice. He can be reached at sawrajsingh@hotmail.com.

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