A while ago I put out a request for topics for me to write about. A friend I’ve yet to actually meet, Bhupesh Shah (@ethnicomm on Twitter), suggested I write about South Asians (as I am one) and how their lifestyle and eating habits may prove to be fatal. My sister (@faizakanji on Twitter) also suggested I write something for Father’s Day.
So, this post is dedicated to the dreamers, the South Asians and Dad.
I hope you enjoy.
Why I decided to join SAPNA –My story, my sapna
I saw his pale face, wearing a blue hospital gown. My heart was beating rapidly, as my family and I gathered around him with worried faces. It was the first time I had ever seen my dad in the hospital.
What had just happened? My father experienced a heart attack. Although heart attacks are common among South Asians, my dad was unaware that his lifestyle and eating habits almost proved to be fatal.
Like many South Asians, my father loves to eat. Halwa, nihari, biryani, you name it and he ate it. As great as these popular South Asian dishes taste, such foods are rich in fats and oils and can cause serious damage to your health if eaten excessively.
In fact, many South Asian dishes contain ghee and fatty oils, which increase the level of LDL cholesterol and aggravate the tendency to develop insulin resistance syndrome – a condition that encompasses many illnesses, including cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.
South Asians are predisposed to insulin resistance as compared to Caucasians due to having a higher central disposition of body fat, leading a more sedentary lifestyle, and eating food rich in oils. The best management and prevention of insulin resistance and its associated health conditions involve a change in lifestyle – eating healthier and being more active.
According to a 2006 study conducted in the UK that interviewed South Asians regarding undertaking physical activity as a part of their diabetes management, most South Asians were aware of the importance of physical exercise, but didn’t feel the need to engage in it because it didn’t fit their cultural norms and expectations. Some believed that their obligation to the home didn’t allow them enough time to exercise, or others believed that they were already active enough because they were engaged in a lot of physical labour or household work.
My father too believed that he didn’t need to exercise. His heart attack could have been easily prevented if he was more aware of the severity of its implications. Although I am lucky that my father is still alive, others have been unfortunate in losing their family members and other loved ones to a heart attack, diabetes or other health conditions commonly found in South Asians.
Thinking of my loved ones in mind, I sought an avenue where I could not only help my family be healthier, but help others and their families as well. That’s when I realized that my sapna (dream) could be fulfilled by turning to SAPNA (South Asian Professional Network for Awareness), an organization that strives to increase the awareness of health-related issues facing the South Asian community.
As a volunteer at SAPNA, I realized that I wanted to be a part of a community devoted to nurturing one of the greatest gifts of life – the gift of good health. At SAPNA, I strive to increase the general knowledge and awareness of two major health related issues facing South Asians – diabetes and heart disease.
Barnett, A.H. et al. 2006. Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular risk in the UK South Asian community. Diabetologia 49:2234 –2246
Das, U.N. 2002. Metabolic Syndrome X is common in South Asians, but why and how? Nutrition 18(9): 774-776.
Ehtisham, S. 2005. Ethnic differences in insulin resistance and body composition in United Kingdom adolescents. Journal of Clinical Endrocrinology & Metabolism 90(7): 3963-3969.
Lawton, J. et al. 2006. “I can’t do any serious exercise”: barriers to physical activity amongst people of Pakistani and Indian origin with Type 2 diabetes
Shereen Mir is a volunteer member of SAPNA’s marketing and communications committee. You can read her tweets @shereenmir!