Calories and Consequences in Kazakhstan Today

ASTANA – According to data published by the National Statistics Agency, citizens of Kazakhstan consume, on average, 3,169 calories every day. Ten years ago, this figure was 2,858, and people in 48 countries consumed more calories per day than people in Kazakhstan did. However, Kazakhstan has since passed many countries in daily calorie counts.

These daily calories can be converted into very different amounts of food: 20 kilos of tomatoes, for example, or about 12 kilos of cabbage. A couple of cakes with cream will get you nearly there, as will a 600-gramme bag of sunflower seeds that a serious snacker could easily make a dent in. The difference between being stuffed or starving on these calories depends entirely on one’s food choices – and poor food choices can lead to serious problems. Doctors say that every year the number of people in Kazakhstan suffering from obesity increases by 1-2 percent. Scientists estimated that over 40 percent of the population has problems with excess weight.

Recent studies by the Kazakh Academy of Nutrition and the National Centre for Healthy Nutrition conducted in the West Kazakhstan region paint a more discouraging picture: 63.3 percent of the women and 54.6 percent of the men examined had excessive body mass, and residents of this region aren’t even leading calorie consumers. In Almaty, Aktobe and Kyzylorda oblasts, where calorie consumption is the highest, these figures would seem bound to increase.

Meanwhile, nutritionists all over the world are trying to convince overfed residents of developed nations to be sure to spend as many calories as they take in. Each individual has his or her own norm, which depends on gender, age, weight, height and the intensity of metabolic processes. Experts at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have defined 2,385 calories per day per person as the average global rate of food energy needs. Of course, the bodily needs for a similar way of life in cold Greenland and the hot Sahara are completely different, as is the energy consumption of a miner versus a newsagent. In Russia, for example, the adult working-age population is divided into five groups with regard to activity. For those whose jobs are primarily intellectual, the recommended daily allowance is 2,200–2,800 calories, while for those engaged in particularly strenuous physical activity, the allowance can rise to 4,300 calories.

An accountant who eats like a labourer is simply not going to expend all those calories without engaging in some vigorous exercise, and yet, unfortunately, low activity levels are becoming the norm in many places. According to British medical journal The Lancet, the low activity levels of many populations have begun to take a devastating toll. Sedentary lifestyles are identified now as a common factor in early death.

Lifestyles with little physical work are now combining with fat-saturated food like French fries, chips, hot dogs and more, which have become synonymous with convenience and pleasure. Astana and especially Almaty are full of places selling these calorie-packed products. And they are not marketed as treats for special occasions or rich foods to be consumed in small amounts. Instead, they’re supersized. “Their marketing policy is quite tricky,” said nutritionist Diana Askarova of common fast food. “For example, a children’s menu item will contain a normal portion of food, while the “normal” adult portion is just huge.”

The United States, of course, is the birthplace of much of the fast food that is now wreaking nutritional havoc around the globe, and is now suffering an obesity epidemic. Trendsetters in overeating, some Americans are now leading the fight against bad foods and bad habits.

First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, shortly after moving into the White House, joined the struggle to promote healthy eating in her country. Revising public school menus has become a major direction of her work, as children’s overeating often leads to cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.

Today, funding of schools from the federal budget of the United States depends on the quality and healthy calorie count of meals offered to students. They must contain a minimum of salt and sugar, but a lot of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals and low-fat milk.

Similar work is being done in Kazakhstan. The School Milk programme has been implemented over the past decade and scientists at the Kazakh Academy of Nutrition have developed a menu for students which includes 12 grammes of nutritious honey. They also intend to replace chicken with turkey meat, which, according to nutritionists, is useful for children’s bodies.

After Kazakhstan’s accession to the World Trade Organisation, the shelves of shops and markets will not be loaded only with healthy food from international brands. Instead, the food choices of Kazakhstan’s citizens, when faced with an increasing variety of consumables, will become even more significant to their and the country’s health.

The author is a columnist for the Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper.

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