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Capitalism Has Produced Some Of The Sickest People

By Dr. Sawraj Singh

There are still many among the Indian community, and particularly among Punjabis, who are admirers of western capitalism. However, the fact remains that, in the entire history of mankind, no other society has produced so many sick people. For example, the worldwide statistics on obesity and overweight have just been released from a study published in the Lancet. From 1980 to 2013, there has been an increase of 25.5% obese and overweight adults and 47.1% in the children. In 2013, 37% adults and 14% children were obese or overweight. America is close to the top. It has 13% of the total obese people in the world while its population is only 5% of the world population. In 1980, 857 million people were obese or overweight. In 2013, 2.1 billion people have joined this category. About one-third of adults in the US are overweight, as defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 25 and 29.9; and another one-third of Americans are obese, as defined as having a BMI of 30 or above. This has been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In some countries, more than 50% of men and women are obese.

The main causes for this situation are increased caloric intake and decreased physical activity. Capitalism and its consumer culture have made eating more than just satisfying your hunger or enjoying good food. You are constantly bombarded with messages to eat a high calorie and energy-dense diet. Burgers, pizzas, fried chicken, potato chips, pastries, and sugary sodas and drinks are promoted with enticing signs and dazzling lights. Food has become a commodity from which big bucks can be made.

The same capitalist consumer culture discourages you from taking adequate exercise from natural ways and sources that do not earn a profit, such as walking. More and more people are giving up walking and are using cars and other vehicles for transportation. People are even discouraged to use stairs. Go to any big mall and you will see that the elevators and escalators are prominently displayed while the stairs are almost always hidden. More and more children and young adults are spending hours and hours on their personal computers and on the internet which is now easily accessible from smartphones and tablets. The end result is that people are consuming more calories and burning fewer calories. They are becoming fatter and fatter.

Being obese or overweight means that you are more prone to be sick. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and arthritis are just a few diseases which we know are directly related to weight. However, obesity and overweight does much more harm. Adipose tissue (fat) reduces immunity, can be metabolically active, and even reduces the amount of oxygen supplied to the brain.

About 30% of the population is now suffering from visible damage done by capitalist consumer culture. However, there is a big increase in the invisible damage done to the population. There is a constant and rapid increase in the number of people suffering from mental illness, particularly depression. A shocking statistic from a just-released survey conducted by Harvard’s in-house magazine on the graduating class of 2014 reported that 42% of the class had sought mental health counseling during their academic careers at Harvard. My guess is that among the 70% of population which is not obese or overweight, at least 20% is suffering from anxiety and depression. If we add the numbers of the physically and mentally ill populations, then we reach a figure which is more than 50%. In other words, more than half of the total population is either physically or mentally sick. You can bet that in the entire history of mankind, there has never been any society in which more than half of the people were sick.

The main reason for the increase in mental illness is that capitalism has weakened and destroyed human relations. Human relations are the foundation of society. In capitalism, money has replaced human relations as the foundation of society. This has taken an unprecedented toll from all of us. As our relations have become weak, we have become more insecure, unstable, anxious, and depressed. Many of us will eventually become physically or mentally sick. People are showing off their palatial homes, expensive cars, and exotic furniture. However, what about the people who are living in these homes, driving these cars and sitting in this furniture? Those people are suffering from growing isolation, loneliness, stress and depression.

Capitalist consumer culture had promised us that increased wealth and material goods will make us very happy. Many of us feel betrayed. If these things have made more than 50 percent of us sick, then we have to conclude that capitalism has produced sick people.

Shri Guru Granth Sahib gives us the message that material things alone cannot make us happy. Without spiritual enlightenment and without a balance between material and spiritual aspects of life, we can neither be happy nor healthy.

Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is the Chairman of the Washington State Network for Human Rights and Chairman of the Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice. He can be reached at sawrajsingh@hotmail.com.

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