Obesity - A Pressing Health Problem

We often wonder how first generation Indian children do so well abroad in the fields that requires intelligence. Could it be? As they have been brought up by their newly immigrant parents in the same tradition of vegetarianism as they were accustomed to at home? How come the second generation of Indian children settled abroad is not as bright as their parents – they are in fact the same mental level as any American children. Could it be because the third generation has been brought up on the typical western meat-fat diet?

The International Alzheimer’s Association once called a meeting to discuss new findings that this mental disease may be the result of meat eating. Alzheimer’s disease isn’t the only thing meat-eaters need to keep in mind when it comes to mental health. Research from the University of Toronto shows that high-fat diets of meat and dairy products starve the brain of its energy supply. Researchers believe that high-fat diets may hinder normal brain function by promoting insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is also a precursor to diabetes, another disease linked to meat consumption.

Carbohydrates effectively boost memory and brain function. Researchers have discovered that a breakfast consisting of mashed potatoes or barley can improve one’s memory. Animal foods have no carbohydrates. A diet lacking in carbohydrates essentially cuts off the brain’s main energy supply, which is sugar. Additionally, a scarcity of carbohydrates can impede the production of acetylcholine, a chemical involved in transmitting nerve signals in the brain.

Weight is important to mental health. Obesity can actually lower one’s intelligence. Experts say that obesity may damage brain function by making it harder for blood to reach the brain, similar to high blood pressure and heart disease. Additionally, social and psychological factors associated with obesity and overeating, such as depression and anxiety, may also be the cause of the decline in brain function seen in obese people.

The fact that obesity lowers intelligence is especially disturbing. One in five American adults are obese. Children are getting fatter for the same reasons that adults are getting fatter: The typical American diet, which emphasizes animal foods, is high in fat and cholesterol. One in five of all nine-year-olds is estimated to be overweight and one in ten obese - a rate that has doubled in the last two decades. Childhood obesity has led to the first cases of Type 2 (or adult-onset) diabetes being seen amongst teenagers and is linked to asthma and serious liver and kidney conditions.

Dieters who have replaced beef, pork, and chicken with fish are not immune to the stupefying effects of eating dead animals. Mercury poisoning from eating fish can also cause fatigue and memory loss, often called “fish fog”. Around the world, fish are accumulating toxic mercury in their flesh as a result of industrial pollution causing severe health problems for humans who eat fish, including brain damage, personality change and damage to developing fetuses. In contrast, vegetarians are less likely to be obese than their meat-eating counterparts.25 % of non vegetarian US children are overweight/obese. Only 8% vegetarian children are overweight/obese. Obesity in general meat eating population is 18%. By contrast 6% of vegetarian adults are obese and only 2% vegans.

This obesity epidemic is affecting children’s mental health. Overweight children not only suffer from psychological trauma but other mental challenges. In a 1980 study in Boston, researchers measured the IQs of vegetarian children. On intelligence testing, they were considerably above average. Western children on a vegan diet exhibited 19 more points of IQ than their meat-eating neighbours. According to research published in the influential Journal of the American Dietetic Association, in 1997 the average I.Q. of U.S. children are 97, while the average I.Q. of U.S. vegetarian kids are 116. In another study, published in the ADA's journal, pediatric developmental tests in vegetarian children indicated a mental age that was advanced more than a year beyond chronological age. In the position paper of the ADA on vegetarian diets, it states: 'Appropriately planned vegan and vegetarian diets satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children and adolescents and promote normal growth.'

Obesity is one of the most pressing health problems in the U.S. and will soon become the country’s leading cause of preventable deaths. This is not just an American problem. It is as much an Indian one. Meat-eaters are fatter. The easiest way to slim down for physical and mental health is to be vegan. Plant-based foods are naturally low in fat and are cholesterol-free. On average, vegetarians are 10 percent leaner than their meat-eating counterparts, and vegans (vegetarians who don’t eat dairy products or eggs) weigh 12 to 20 pounds less than both vegetarians and meat-eaters.

It’s easy to be vegan in India. Hundreds of vegetables, lentils and whole grains give you all the nutrition you need. Researchers have found that overweight people consume about the same number of calories as slim people—but that they don’t consume the same kinds of food. Animal products contain much more fat than plant-based foods—animal flesh, after all, is designed to store calories, which makes it one of the worst things that a dieter can eat. It’s possible to be a fat vegan, of course, just as it’s possible to be a thin meat-eater, but adult vegans are, on average lighter than adult meat-eaters.

Adopting a vegan diet won’t just help you slim down, it will also help you fight—and maybe even treat or cure—an array of ailments, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and more. Dr. T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University, the foremost epidemiologist in the world, states, “Quite simply, the more you substitute plant foods for animal foods, the healthier you are likely to be. I now consider veganism to be the ideal diet. A vegan diet—particularly one that is low in fat—will substantially reduce disease risks. Plus, we’ve seen no disadvantages from veganism. In every respect, vegans appear to enjoy equal or better health in comparison to both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.” In 1986, the British Medical Association stated that, 'Vegetarians have lower rates of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, large bowel disorders, cancers and gall stones. Cholesterol levels tend to be lower in vegetarians.'

Eating habits are set in early childhood. It is much easier to build a nutritious diet from vegetarian foods than from animal products, which contain animal fat, cholesterol, and other substances, that growing children certainly do not need. Calcium, protein, fat, iron, fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals – you can get them all in vegetables, lentils, wholegrain, beans, nuts and fruit. Adolescents raised on a vegetarian diet have fewer problems with weight, acne, allergies, and gastrointestinal problems than their meat-eating peers. Diets rich in meat, eggs, and dairy products reduce the age of puberty, as shown in a 2000 study from the Harvard School of Public Health, which found that girls who consumed higher levels of animal protein between 3 and 8 years of age get their periods earlier.

Children who acquire a taste for meat, eggs and french fries today are the cancer patients, heart patients, and weight-loss clinic patients of tomorrow. Dr. Benjamin Spock -- 'America's Pediatrician' advocates in his best-selling pediatric books vegetarianism from birth and veganism after age 2. Also, in a world that is so competitive, can you afford to have a child with less IQ because of the diet you force on him/her.

Maneka Gandhi

*Proper wildlife rehabilitation is an extremely biologically and ecologically responsible attitude toward all living things.*