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Your Paunch Can Lead to Heart Attack, Diabetes, Even Cancer; Here Are ICMR’s Dietary Guidelines to Burn Belly Fat – News18


Health Matters

Picture yourself or your relatives – whether it’s your father, mother, uncle, aunt or husband – with a prominent belly. We often link a bulging tummy with looks and body shape, but never with higher risk of heart attack, diabetes, or other health issues. Now, think again about that picture. Isn’t it important to let that person know that their paunch is extremely unhealthy?

Revised dietary guidelines by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have thrown light on abdominal obesity among men and women.

While in the last edition of this column, we discussed the five myths debunked by these guidelines surrounding the consumption of tea, coffee, fresh fruit juice, tender coconut water and black/pink salt, in this edition, let’s discuss an important issue – potbelly.

Dealing with a potbelly is a common challenge for numerous Indians, yet it is often overlooked or simply does not get the attention it deserves in terms of resolution or elimination. Abdominal obesity – also known as increased waist circumference – indicates excess fat in the peritoneum (abdominal cavity) with accumulation in and around the internal organs, which is associated with the risk of lifestyle diseases.

The guidelines state that in the last few decades, a marked increase in the prevalence of abdominal obesity, overweight, and obesity among all age groups in rural and urban areas has occurred.

“About 25% of Indians are either overweight or obese,” it stated while adding that “abdominal obesity is prevalent in 53% of urban and 19% of rural adults”.

While reasons for abdominal obesity can be different, risks remain the same and crucial. Individuals with abdominal and overall obesity are at an enhanced risk of lifestyle diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, gallstones, joint disorders (osteoarthritis), hypertension, heart disease, certain cancers, and psychosocial problems – as per ICMR’s dietary guidelines for Indians.

Why do you have a bulging tummy?

Excess energy intake and reduced physical activity lead to excess fat accumulation in the body. Indians frequently attribute their potbellies to genetics, recalling if their father or forefathers also had protruding stomachs, taking comfort in the lack of adverse health effects on them.

Within traditional households, men with a paunch are often seen as representations of prosperous homes with steady incomes. Additionally, individuals may view their potbellies as a sign of aging.

All three beliefs – genetics, steady income and aging – hold some truth and are supported by studies or research to some degree. For instance: It’s true that with growing age, fat accumulation in the belly increases. The reason being – one needs fewer calories each year as metabolism slows down and muscle mass decreases.

It’s also true that fatter wallets lead to fatter people. In a study published in 2020, researchers examined the link between countries’ wealth and their obesity rates, and they discovered people get plumper as their country gets richer.

And, definitely, genetics play a role. Studies have proven that aspects of body shape and size are strongly influenced by genetics. So, if your mother has a bulging tummy or your father typically gains weight around his stomach, you are more likely to face similar challenges.

Also, according to the guidelines, unhealthy dietary practices during infancy and childhood (such as overfeeding) play an important role in predisposing individuals to overweight/obesity in adulthood.

The guidelines suggest that there is a tendency to gain weight mostly around 20 years of age, and among women after childbirth due to less physical activity and excess calorie intake. Around menopause, too, women have higher chances of gaining weight around the waistline.

The document warns that obesity is also rapidly increasing among children and adolescents and, therefore, you should be watchful during these periods.

What should you do?

You can keep in check the waist circumference using an inch tape. This measurement is useful for the assessment of central obesity. The rule is: a waist circumference of more than 90 cm for men and more than 80 cm for women is associated with an increased risk of several chronic lifestyle diseases.

“Several studies have shown a direct correlation of central obesity with chronic lifestyle diseases or non-communicable diseases (NCD),” state the guidelines.

Thus, you can maintain muscle mass and increase metabolism by being active. The guidelines also suggest that you should eat healthy and maintain an appropriate body mass index or weight for height along with regular yoga and physical activity. Slow and steady reduction in body weight is advisable and not immediate.

Also, reducing consumption of sugar, salt, excess refined oil, deep-fried and refined foods is important along with avoiding soft drinks and alcohol. To reduce weight, cut down on calories from refined carbs and cooking oils.

“Increase the consumption of fruits, vegetables and pulses. Prefer whole grains and millet to refined grains or ultra-processed foods,” the guidelines stated, while adding that healthy sleeping patterns (seven to eight hours every night) are necessary to avoid unhealthy eating behaviours and resultant weight gain.

“Extreme approaches for weight loss may lead to health hazards,” it suggests, while instructing “a reduction of half a kilogram body weight per week is considered to be safe”.

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