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Simple food and plenty of exercise - EDITORIAL

26 January 2016 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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A National Physical Health and Sports Week was launched on Monday by President Maithripala Sirisena to emphasize the need for good physical health so that the time-tested principle of a healthy mind in a healthy body will produce citizens who are physically fit and mentally creative or imaginative.

Sri Lanka in recent decades has faced the crisis of a growing number of people suffering from non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, heart ailments and strokes. People-friendly nutritionists have identified an unbalanced diet and lifestyle as the main cause of this epidemic. For instance gram, green gram, cow-pea and other lentils are known to be the healthiest diet for breakfast.  But most people including children have got used to bread or buns while the richer children go for fatty hamburgers or similar imported junk foods. Lunch and dinner are also often unbalanced. Nutritionists suggest less rice and more curries including green leafy vegetables for lunch and something made of ulundu or rulang for dinner. But most people do not go for such a diet but instead prefer rich oily meals which may be tasty but are not nourishing and not good for general physical health.

Lifestyles have also changed   for the worse. For instance thousands of children have little or no time for sports, playtime or exercise but are forced to go for tuition after tuition in an exam-oriented system of education.Whatever spare time is given for television.

People-friendly nutritionists say the western nutrition model has failed. In the United States some 50% of the people are known to be suffering from obesity with a growing number of tragedies where children are dying before their parents. Unfortunately in many cases Government authorities are being misled by those with vested interests. 

For instance the United Nations’ Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) programme is known to be indirectly sponsored by transnational food companies which among other things are trying to plant their fortified rice in Sri Lanka though we have a rich history and civilization where rice farming has been part of our national culture. In another instance a transnational company which was once alleged to be a baby killer, has been given a contract to carry out a nutrition programme in schools. Unfortunately a leading social service movement is also supporting this programme. Since 1978 when Sri Lanka opened itself to the capitalist market economic forces, we have become a massive dumping ground for junk foods and even milk food of transnational giants. 

With the dawn of 2016, President Sirisena pledged the National Government would launch an intensive programme for Sri Lanka to grow the nutritious food we needed with perhaps a few exceptions. The Government needs to make maximum use of the State-controlled media, especially television and radio to educate the people on proper diet and lifestyle and nutritious food like gotukola which virtually grows wild.

In addition we need to gradually switch to organic farming with natural fertilizer such as cow dung. During the past 40 years we have used and abused far too many imported agro-chemicals to the extent that a large part of our soil or Mother Earth has been polluted and is losing its fertility. Our ground water has also been polluted, and this is believed to be the major cause for the kidney disease epidemic mainly in the North-Central Province.

There is also evidence that some 1,200 varieties of preservatives, flavour-enhancing substances and artificial sweeteners -- some of them toxic -- are used in many imported food items. As a result of all these factors, most of the food items we eat, including vegetables and fruits, are polluted or poisoned. Thus we are guilty of slowly poisoning ourselves and even our innocent, unsuspecting children.

So the National Physical Fitness and Sports Programme needs to go far above and beyond this week and address issues such as organic farming and proper nutrition  so that Sri Lankans could on the long  term enter the healthy path of good diet and lifestyle with simple food, simple meals and plenty of exercise. 
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