Mount Pearl doctor forming support group to help people battle obesity
By Mark Squibb | Vol 7 No. 17 (Aug. 29, 2019)
Dr. Mehrul Hasnain says that North America’s obesity problem is too big to be tackled by one individual.
So, Hasnain, a former associate professor of Psychiatry at MUN and former head of Liaison Psychiatry, Geriatric and Consultation divisions with Eastern Health, is starting a support group dealing with obesity, stress, cardiovascular disease, and how all three problems are interwoven.
“Obesity is a big problem. It’s a national problem. It’s a problem of many developed countries,” said Hasnain, adding that 60 per cent of Canadians are either overweight or obese, meaning significantly overweight.
“So, six in 10 individuals are either overweight or obese,” he summarised.
It’s due to a number of cultural and societal shifts over the last number of decades, Hasnain argues.
“Our eating habits have changed, our lifestyle habits have changed, our involvement in physical activity has dramatically changed,” he explained.
In simple terms, he told The Pearl, we have become lazier.
“We have become used to power tools. We don’t put in as much effort for routine walking, biking, or physical activity the way we used to … we don’t engage in as much physical activity as we used to 30 or 40 years ago.”
He also noted that stress and obesity have a bilateral relationship.
“We have become a chronically stressed society. We are stressed at work, we are stressed in our home life, we are running from point A to point B, we’re not finding time to relax, we’re not finding time to enjoy physical activity, we are trying to cope with that by eating stuff that gives us immediate gratification. We just pick up food, fast food, packed food, processed food, and are just in this viscous cycle… Most people, when they are stressed, they tend to eat more. And as we eat more, and we gain weight, and develop what we call in medical terms, inflammation in the body. And once that happens, that triggers a number of cellular and molecular events in the body that cause conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and these three conditions are linked with cardiovascular disease.”
That includes heart disease, strokes, and mini-stokes, he said, noting that obesity is also linked to dementia and certain kinds of cancer.
And unfortunately, the problems often start in the early years.
“Right now, between the ages of five and 17, approximately 30 per cent of the children are overweight or obese. That number was about 10 percent thirty years ago. So, we have tripled the number,” said Hasnain. “In the next 20 years, we are looking at an increasing prevalence of obesity. Once we generate obesity in society, that triggers genes that make our next generation more vulnerable to obesity. So, it’s a catch-22; we do things that make us, and particularly the next generation obese, and once they are obese, their next generation is more vulnerable to be obese because certain genes have been triggered.”
Hasnain argues that those numbers will only increase unless there is a momentum to change policy and practice.
“Among the developed countries, Canada is at the lower end of the countries in terms of public policies against obesity,” said Hasnain. “The policy is ‘Okay, let’s wait until the obese person becomes diabetic, and then we can treat the diabetes.’”
Part of the problem, he argues, is that Canada spends too much time looking over the shoulder of the USA.
“Theirs is worse than ours. But we tend to follow them,” said Hasnain, noting that we would do well to follow European countries, and countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
It’s a problem that Hasnain said won’t be solved overnight, and will take more then campaign promises.
“The problem is it’s too much for any political party to take on. And what I mean by that, is they think in terms of the next election, they think in terms of what they can do best to maintain their voter base. They don’t want to displease people. And if they want to bring a societal change, it is costly, financially, because you would have to put money down first and hope that that money would pay off in the next 10 to 20 to 30-years.”
Instead, said Hasnain, if government is to bring about meaningful change, there needs to be a sense of unity and agreement.
“To prevent obesity from becoming a problem that eats into our health care budget, these politicians have to get together and think in terms of 10, 15, or 20-years.”
He says that he sees a certain degree of willingness and cooperation between parties when discussing the energy sector and would like to see that same unity applied to health care discussions.
An example of how government policy can influence healthy lifestyles at the municipal level, said Hasnain, is the implementation of bike-friendly infrastructure and roadways
He told The Pearl that biking is an activity he enjoys, but that his biking is limited by policy.
“I live in Mount Pearl, so if I have to go to Dominion to pick up something I either have to walk, or use the car, because there are no bike trails,” said Hasnain. “There may be hundreds of people willing to bike to their work, but the roads are not biker friendly. What can they do?”
He suggested that anybody wondering about their own weight can easily check an online Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator.
“There are simple calculators online. All one needs to know is their weight, in pounds or kilograms, and their height, in centimetres or metres.
“They punch in their weight and their height, and it gives them their BMI. And the BMI is either below normal weight, normal weight, overweight, or obese.”
Fir this study, participants must register at the Summit Centre or online, as there is a 50 person participation cap for the weekly sessions, which begin Sept. 17.
Hasnain, who ran a dementia support group at the Summit Centre, is also running a Facebook group titled Stress, Cardiovascular Disease, and Healthy Lifestyle that anyone can follow.