Monica Cheru Mpambawashe Review Editor
“The only two certainties in life are death and taxes,” observed Mark Twain, the American writer who brought to life Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. In reality taxes may be evaded with varying degrees of success and only death comes to all as the end. But for many it does matter how and when they die. Within practical control most people would want to live up to and possibly beyond the biblically allotted seven score years then expire gently in their sleep.
Only a few in this country are realising that dream. According to World Health Organisation Zimbabwe Report 2014 released in June this year, Zimbabweans are dying from non-communicable diseases with cancer (10 percent), cardio-vascular diseases (nine percent), chronic lung diseases (three percent), and diabetes (one percent) topping the list.
All the above diseases are lifestyle linked with obesity being a large factor in determining risk extent. WHO defines overweight and obesity as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health. It is worth looking at some of the habits of Zimbabweans that are responsible for our widening girths.
1. Rock my wheels
According to official statistics a total of 7 926 vehicles were imported through Beitbridge Border Post alone between the months of April and June 2015. The flood of cheap used cars means that almost everyone has access to a vehicle to take them from point A to B even if they do not personally own one.
Walking and cycling – unless it is in the neighbourhood and one is clad in some fancy exercise gear – is seen as an example of social and economic failure. Children are driven to the school gate or they have their own cars. Yet in more affluent countries cycling is a very popular method of commuting. Royal Danish Embassy Charge d’Affaires, Mr Erik Rasmussen easily imported the habit to Zimbabwe, happily cycling to and from work.
Experts advise that while going to the gym and other structured exercise programmes are good, the most sustainable form is when exercise is incorporated as a natural part of one’s lifestyle. Among the habits that they encourage are options like taking the stairs instead of the elevator when the destination is only a couple of floors up. One can also stand up to go and talk to colleagues within the same building instead of using the phone.
2. Junk food
The growth of the fast food industry in the country says it all. Be it the big brands or the hole in the corner variety, the greasy spoon variety to eatery is patronised by too many people. The increasingly ubiquitous burger vending sites show that the trend is increasing rather than decreasing. One pushing factor seems to be the lack of healthy food outlets offering affordable fare. Either one parts with less than five dollars for fast food or must pay considerably more at the fine dining spots.
So entrenched is the fast food outlet predilection that one popular Facebook user who has developed into a controversial social commentator recently queried who is always queuing up at the most popular fast food outlets if Zimbabweans are really as economically challenged as they claim to be. There is no denying that the element of taste is a great influence in the choice of foods. A heaped plate of salads will most probably always be passed over for one containing fried chips and chicken.
The advice here is to make fast food and all other unhealthy foods a treat and not an everyday indulgence. Experts also suggest taking your own food to work which is ultimately kinder to both the pocket and the waistline. And we are blessed with many wild fruits and other healthy foods that we can make a regular part of our diets.
3. Venti portions
The Venti is the outsized coffee containers served by US outlet Starbucks. In Zimbabwe we seem to be in love with the plate equivalent as we use huge ones and really heap them up. Many diet plans advise limiting of potion size, especially when it comes to things like starch and protein.
Even if one scrupulously watches what they eat and stick to what are considered healthy foods, if they eat too much of those then they will still gain weight. The bottom line is that if your food intake does exceed your use then you will gain weight. So the solution is to eat less. Dieticians generally say that one should use a smaller size of plate and load it up with vegetables and fruit to limit the space that one can accommodate the “baddies” like fried fruits and sweet confections.
4. Sugary drinks
It is not only what you eat that makes you gain weight. It is also what you drink. The market is flooded with cheap local and imported beverages that contain a lot of sugar. Some of these cost as low as one dollar for two litres. Therefore more people can afford to consume more of these thus directly resulting in increased sugar intake. In the United States, first lady Michelle Obama has actively gone to war against sugary drinks with the country’s legislators taking up the fight to try and reduce the consumption thereof.
In Zimbabwe people tend to consume whatever is available with very few making an effort to read labels and find out what it is they are ingesting and the implications. A simple solution is to drink more water.
5. Faith in miracle cures
As a nation we seem to have developed a culture of expecting miracles. People buy soaps and creams to lose weight. Others spend hundreds of dollars on oral medications that will supposedly make their health problems go away. A doctor in the city says that people should realise that there are no alternatives to sensible diets. “If there was a miraculous weight loss substance that one could use and just watch all the extra curves melt away, that would be wonderful. But it just does not exist. So the only way out is to watch what you eat and exercise.”