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Consumerism Is Fattening Up Punjabis

By Dr. Sawraj Singh

I have been writing for the last many years that Punjab has become a bastion of consumerism after the Green Revolution. Eventually, this unearned title has led Punjab to become an epicenter of obesity. A recent survey has shown that Punjab has more obese people than any other state in India. Another survey demonstrated the association of obesity with poor health. A very recent survey conducted by the Post Graduate Institute for Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) Chandigarh showed that Punjabis are also probably the unhealthiest people in India. 60% of Punjabis in the 40-50 years age group are suffering from some disease. For example, 42% of the population is suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure).

Punjabis have a very poor lifestyle. They do not exercise, have poor eating habits and like to drink alcohol. 27% of Punjabis drink alcohol; out of those, 19% are heavy drinkers. 22% of Punjabis chew tobacco, and 13% become addicts. 96% of Punjabis do not eat any fruit, 60.2% do not take enough exercise, and 6.7% suffers from heat disease. The survey also showed that most of the Punjabis do not believe in routine medical check-ups or lab tests. I think they are too busy eating and drinking and have very little time for medical exams and lab tests. Even if they had the time, I feel that they will rather spend their money on buying a few more drinks. A small state, Punjab, may be consuming more alcohol than the entire continent of Australia.

Chandigarh is becoming a city of the obese; over 63% of the population is overweight, which is considered alarmingly high. 41% of the people of Chandigarh are suffering from hypertension while 15% are diabetic. It is obvious that Chandigarh, which has richer and more educated people than Punjab, is not doing any better than Punjab when it comes to the issue of taking care of your health. In other words, consumerism has affected all Punjabis regardless of their socio-economic status or level of education. I also have a feeling that the dominance of consumer culture in Punjab has affected Punjabis living anywhere and everywhere. I feel Punjabis in Delhi or overseas Punjabis are not doing any better.

I lived for a long time in America and visited Punjabis in many countries and the Punjabis living outside of Punjab in India. They are all suffering from the dominance of consumer culture. I saw the prevalence of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, and kidney disease in the Punjabi populations there. Wherever the studies were done (in Canada, UK or USA), our people had much higher incidence of these diseases than the average population. In one of the Gurudwara Sahibs in Surrey, there were three Marags (death rites) in one day. The President of the Gurudwara Sahib was very well-known to me. He was very sad and upset that day. He told me that one of those who had died was in his thirties, the other was in his forties, and the third was about fifty. All three had died of heart attack.

This survey did not include mental diseases. Still, more than 60% people are suffering from different physical diseases. If we include mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and insomnia, then it is not difficult to imagine that the number of people suffering from both physical and mental diseases can reach 80% to 90%. My experience in North America and in Punjab is that mental diseases, particularly anxiety and depression, are very prevalent and the incidence is rising rapidly. Just like the physical diseases, the main cause for the rise in the incidence of mental diseases is consumerism. People want more and more of material goods and comforts. However, these are proving to be a mirage: the more we move closer to them, the further they move away from us. In other words, instead of being satisfied with them, we end up being more dissatisfied. The dominance of consumer culture has decreased the qualities such as moderation and contentment in us. We find ourselves in a never-ending rat race. We only leave this race when we are too exhausted to continue running in the race. The rat race increases fear, anxiety and insecurity in us. Eventually, these push us into mental illness. There are studies available which show that the incidence of mental disease is very prevalent and is rising in Punjab and the Punjabis. Consumerism has promoted individualism, self-centeredness and selfishness. All of these are weakening family and social relations. These relations helped us to cope with our stress, anxiety and depression. The weakening of these relations is compounding the problem of mental diseases.

To preserve our health, we need a healthy lifestyle more than anything else. We have to inculcate healthy qualities such as patience, tolerance, moderation, and contentment. These were very important components of our traditional culture and value system. Consumerism has incited exactly the opposite of these qualities. We have become more impatient, intolerant, extravagant and frustrated. Sri Guru Granth Sahib promotes the concept of a healthy lifestyle based upon the qualities of moderation, patience, tolerance, contentment, forgiveness and compassion. All of these qualities not only make you a better person, but also a healthier person.

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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