HEALTH EXPERTS have called on the Indian government to emulate UK’s cycling strategy as a means of combating obesity, which has been linked to an increased risk of coronavirus complications.
A recent report by Public Health England said severely overweight people faced a greater risk of death from Covid-19, and are more likely to need hospitalisation and intensive care.
Subsequently, Boris Johnson – who had a harrowing experience with Covid-19 survivor – launched a “war on obesity” in the UK.
As part of a fitness drive, the prime minister announced a £2-billion fund to build thousands of miles of protected cycle routes across the country, strengthen the Highway Code to protect cyclists and pedestrians, and encourage physicians to prescribe cycling to patients.
Dr Naveen Satija, senior consultant (general and laparoscopic surgery) at Paras Hospital in Gurgaon, said the UK’s “strategy to promote cycling to counter obesity is an interesting public health policy initiative”.
“We believe India must also launch similar initiatives particularly in urban areas to encourage people to give up motorised vehicles and start cycling to work,” he added.
“A UN report concluded recently that the number of obese adults in India grew from 25.2 million in 2012 to 34.3 million in 2016 and to 135 million in 2019. Obesity is itself a pandemic and is a risk factor for multiple lifestyle diseases including diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Obese individuals are also at greater risk of complications from coronavirus.”
Satija noted that pandemic had restricted people’s movements and curtailed fitness regimens.
“It is important for people to find safe means of exercising in these times,” he said.
Health experts in India believe cycling is among the safest and most comprehensive exercises amid current conditions, as it allows people to continue burning calories while maintaining social distancing.
“With people staying indoors and abstaining from visiting gyms and group exercise sessions like yoga, we are apprehensive that it will fuel a further surge in overweight population,” said Dr Amitabha Ghosh, senior consultant (internal medicine), Columbia Asia Hospital, Gurgaon.
“In these circumstances promoting active modes of transport as a public policy is very essential particularly in urban areas that have poor physical activity rates. Having dedicated and safe cycling routes across cities can encourage a large number of people to start cycling to work. This will not only help reduce Covid-19-related complications but also improve long term health outcomes in the country.”
Pankaj M Munjal, head of Hero Motors Company (HMC), one of India’s leading cycle manufacturers, joined the healthcare experts in calling for a “strong policy nudge” to promote cycling as a healthy and environment-friendly transport alternative.
“UK is the latest country to launch a major cycling promotion initiative and several other governments globally are devising similar plans to promote cycling by creating dedicated cycling routes across towns and cities. India must learn from the UK and other countries leading this example,” said Munjal, whose company has a strong presence UK’s bicycle market.
“In India, we have already witnessed a major spurt in demand for cycles in recent months. A large number of people are actually ditching their cars for short-distance trips. Cycling as a fitness regimen has also caught up significantly post lockdown. This shifting consumer behaviour needs a strong policy nudge to convert it into a full-fledged cycling movement.”
Various studies have said cycling offered major health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, strengthened bones, better management of arthritis, weight loss and stress reduction.
Moreover, according to a study by The Energy and Resources Institute, India could save about £18 billion annually – taking into account reduced fuel consumption, pollution and health costs – if bicycles replace two- and four-wheelers for short-distance trips.