Too much of a good thing hurts all of us in insidious ways. And if you’re a slave to more than one good thing— where a “good thing” is defined as an activity that make you happy, such as smoking, drinking, eating, sleeping, sex, texting, or just vegetating in front of the television — then it’s bound to hurt you sooner than later.
The rot sets in years before the side effects of the addiction show up. Even children as young as 10 are not spared. This week, data from Canada presented at the World Congress of Cardiology in Melbourne showed that children under 10 who spend two hours or more in front of a screen — television, computer, smart-pad or video-game — were 2.7 times more likely to have high blood pressure than screen-averse children.
The odds were higher for overweight and obese children, as well as for inactive ones. The children, aged between 8 and 10 years, and had one obese parent, were at a higher risk of obesity and associated problems, such as high blood pressure.
Prevalence of high blood pressure among children in urban India is more than the US average of 2-5%. In Delhi, 6.4% children have high blood pressure (Archives Of Diseases in Childhood, 2010), 6.4% in Mumbai (Pediatrics, 2000), and 6.2% in Mysore (Indian Journal of Paediatrics, 2007). Children with belly fat, high blood fats (triglycerides) and large waist sizes were more likely to be hypertensive.
The Canadian study offered a solution. It showed that being fit and physically active helped even the screen-addicts dodge the health risks, regardless of the genetic material inherited. So, children with obese parents could beat the “fat genes” by getting on their feet and staying on them.
As any young Kung-Fu Panda-fan will confirm, you can be fit even if you don’t quite look the part. A clutch of studies in adults have linked being active to better overall health. Active people who are overweight live longer than thin people who are inactive, showed a meta-analysis of almost 100 studies from PubMed and EMBASE databases by Dr Katherine M. Flegel of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Combined, the studies included more than three million adults, with all studies being adjusted for age, sex, and smoking habits.
The results found that a little pudge delayed death: The overweight had a 6% lower risk of death, while those slightly obesity had a 5% lower risk. But in this case, moderation really proved to be key: Anyone with moderate obesity (grades 2 and 3 obesity categories) had a 29% increased risk of death.
For the CDC study, people with a BMI between 18.5 and 25 were considered normal weight; those with BMIs over 25 were labeled overweight; a BMI between 30 and 35 meant grade 1 obesity; and anything higher than that meant grade 2 or 3 obesity.
So, if you’re a little overweight but clocking in 8,000-10,000 steps a day, you can carry a few extra kilograms around without worrying about the hit your health takes.
But a little extra weight can kill. Putting on an extra 3.5-9 kg to your healthy weight raises risk of death substantially, reported the Annals of Internal Medicine in December last year. The study found that being overweight puts people at greater risk of dying from diabetes and heart disease even if they are active, thus fuelling the debate on how much fat is metabolically acceptable.
Sweating it out is the one thing there’s complete consensus on. Inactivity is strongly linked to heart disease and is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, contributing to around 3.2 million deaths a year, estimates the World Health Organisation. It recommends 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise — activity that makes you breathless but not gasping — seven days a week for children and 40 minutes of moderate-intensity activity for adults each day.
Being active and a little fat is not such a bad thing, but if the fat starts turning to flab, lose it fast. Exercising to lose is your best bet, but if it’s not showing results fast enough, consider sanitising your diet. From heart disease to diabetes and cancers, being overweight contributes to or aggravates almost every chronic disease, and now being active is no longer an acceptable excuse to pack in pounds.