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Childhood obesity- a bad sign of what might follow

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by Randima Attygalle

‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ calls for rephrasing today into ‘Bad food and screen time make Jack an obese boy’. Childhood obesity is increasing rapidly in Sri Lanka and the present COVID-19 pandemic is a double whammy, with children being home-bound with no physical activity. The increased screen time spent on virtual learning adds fuel to the fire.

“Although we did see more obese and overweight children in high income settings in the past, today the incidence of obesity is rising among the urban middle class,” observes the Consultant Paediatrician and Professor of Paediatrics from General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University, Prof. Ishani Rodrigo. She cites a recent survey among 5-18 year olds in urban Sri Lanka which showed an obesity prevalence of 10.3% and overweight prevalence of 11.3%. Studies in the Colombo, Gampaha and Jaffna Districts reflect a higher prevalence of childhood obesity says Dr. Rodrigo. “We are yet to unearth island-wide data on the problem,” she adds.

In 2019, according to the WHO, an estimated 38.2 million children worldwide, under the age of five years were overweight or obese. Once considered a high-income country problem, excess weight and obesity are now on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings. In Africa, the number of overweight children under five has increased by nearly 24% percent since 2000. Almost half of the children under five who were overweight or obese in 2019 lived in Asia.

The etiology of obesity is multi-factorial and complex. Although at a basic level it is about more ‘calories in’ than ‘calories out’, there is a genetic contribution as well, says the paediatrician. “Although pathological obesity is attributed to medical conditions such as Cushings Syndrome and hypothyroidism what is more often seen is simple obesity. It is often the food and lifestyle which contribute to it.”

Increased intake of food high in simple carbohydrates, sugars and fats, convenience food such as pastries and kottu high in energy, fast food, sweetened beverages, flavoured milk, fizzy drinks, large portion sizes and frequent snacking are among the major triggers of obesity in children. Poor intake of vegetables and fruit in the diet, less outdoor play, increased screen time, less household chores for children and dependence on electrical appliances as opposed to doing tasks manually have made the situation worse.

Food advertising aimed at children, enabling availability of sugary beverages at affordable prices and lack of healthy food choices in school canteens/tuck shops (the choices largely being starchy and sugary food) have also accelerated this national health dilemma. “In the UK, the school meal policy was revised, adopting the healthy school lunches which were promoted by the famous master chef Jamie Oliver. The country also imposed a sugar tax on beverages depending on the amount of sugar they contain,” explains Prof. Rodrigo who calls for a similar shift in the local policy. “Although the Ministry of Health had issues dietary guidelines, they have not yet filtered to communities and there are no national level programmes to have a dialogue with parents, teachers and school authorities on this national health crisis.”

COVID pandemic has also led to an alarming increase in the weight of children across all age groups. “Children have lost most opportunities for physical activities including walking to school, playing with friends and organized sports. With virtual classrooms replacing real classrooms, children spend a considerable time before screens. Most of the entertaining is also afforded by screens. With very little to do at home, children eat often to relieve their boredom and mothers too tend to make more treats at home and feed their children which could go against them.”

Once obesity is established, managing of it becomes very challenging, warns Dr. Rodrigo who urges parents to encourage healthy eating and living. “Children usually eat the family diet, hence if the family diet is rich in starchy, fatty and sugary food and low in vegetables and fruit, they will automatically follow this.”

The long term repercussions of childhood obesity are multiple: adult obesity, the increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, heart disease, strokes and orthopaedic complications including joint pains and early osteoarthritis, increased levels of cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver are among these. The condition can also trigger skin problems such as thickening and discolouration of skin and stretch marks and also cause breathing problems including obstructive sleep apnea (stopping breathing during sleep), obstruction to airway and snoring. Childhood obesity also increases risk of fractures and certain cancers in adulthood including endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney, and colon cancers.

Addressing childhood obesity requires a multidisciplinary approach with collective inputs of paediatricians, nutritionists, physical training instructors, psychologists etc. “Motivation of the child and family or motivational counseling is the key in intervention which if often very intensive,” remarks the Professor. Following the initial assessment involving physical markers and other necessary medical tests, the psychological assessment involving the child and his/her family would follow. “Family history of obesity, family perception and understanding of the problem and motivation to achieve a healthy weight is important in this process,” she notes. Regular monitoring of children and motivational therapy sessions help keep children and their families on track, she says.

The ‘Nutri-Fit Programme’ at the University Hospital of the Kotelawala Defence University manages overweight and obese children. Conducted through the Paediatric Clinic of the hospital, the programme emphasizes on becoming healthier and more fit rather than losing weight. “Weight loss inevitably happens as a result of this approach,” explains the professor who goes on to note that this facility is extended to healthy cooking demonstrations for children, exercise and yoga sessions.

Obese children need to be empowered to overcome psychological trauma the condition entails, remarks the Consultant. Destigmatizing obesity, motivational counseling, removing the guilt stigma, making them partners in achieving the target, emphasizing health rather than obesity, identifying their strengths and encouraging them and early involvement of a clinical psychologist in addressing these issues are among the tools of empowerment. Severe cases of obesity may need certain medications.



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‘Manamala Hendewa’ at Nelum Pokuna today

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The Nelum Pokuna Performing Arts Theatre will once again play host to the solo music concert titled “Manamala Hendewa” by the popular vocalist and musician Keerthi Pasquel on occasion of his birthday today.

The concert titled “මනමාල හැන්දෑව” will likely be Keerthi’s most successful performance to date. The show’s music will be provided by a seasoned band led by Nalaka Saji Jayasinghe, with guest appearances from artists like Chandralekha Perera, Nirosha Virajini, Samitha Mudunkotuwa, and Dammika Bandara for duets. Each member of the audience should leave with a lasting impression of the performance.

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A fish that sparked a national obsession

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Bacalhau (salt cod) is a deep part of Portugal’s culinary identity. But the fish is found far from the country’s shores, so how did this love affair come to be and continue today?

On a cold winter’s evening in Portugal, it might come to your table com natas – fresh from the oven and bubbling in cream – layered between fried potato and sliced onion and spiced with nutmeg. Weaving through Lisbon’s steep and cobbled streets, it wouldn’t take long before you found someone serving it as a light and crispy fritter, dusted with a little coarse salt and dished up with a pot of pungent aioli. You could buy it shaped as mouth-sized fried potato dumplings pastéis style, flavoured with parsley and garlic, for a walk along the banks of Porto’s Douro River. You might even come across it as part of a hearty southern bread soup, topped with coriander and a poached egg.

That’s because bacalhau – or salt cod – which sits at the heart of all these dishes, runs deep through Portugal’s culinary identity, with the country consuming 20% of the world’s supply. In fact, so central to Portuguese hearts (and stomachs) is this ingredient, that the saying goes “there are 365 ways to prepare salted cod, one for each day of the year”.

But for a fish that is found only in the icy depths of the North Atlantic Ocean – far from Portugal’s shores – the country’s love affair with salt cod is a puzzling one. How exactly did it end up on Portuguese plates? The answer is wrapped up in more than 500 years of intriguing history.

Take a trip today to most restaurants, markets and cafés across the country and you’ll find salt cod in one form or another. It even plays a starring role at hip Lisbon restaurant Alma, which earned its first Michelin star within nine months of opening and added a second star soon after.

“It’s funny, sometimes Michelin star chefs or high-end cuisine chefs don’t value salted cod because they don’t see it [fitting] within this type of gastronomy,” said Alma executive chef and owner Henrique Sá Pessoa, of the typically humble comfort food. “But I always have and always will have cod on my menus.”

He assures visitors that a salt cod creation will also feature on the menu of his new restaurant, JOIA, which will open in London later this year. But though bacalhau is a traditional and well-explored ingredient for many natives across the country, Pessoa is still finding ways to push Portugal’s love for it into new territory.

Case in point: his “most Instagrammable” creation, Cobblestreet Cod, named for its likeness to the centuries-old streets outside Alma’s front door in the historical Chiado district. It’s a modern twist on an old peasant dish and one of the country’s most beloved salt cod recipes – bacalhau à bras – where typically shredded salt cod, fried matchstick potatoes and onions are all bound together with scrambled egg and garnished with black olives.

“I knew I couldn’t call it bacalhau à bras because the Portuguese are quite traditional, and people sometimes get offended when you play around with classics,” he explained. “I wanted to get inspired by this dish but elevate it presentation-wise, texture-wise and detail-wise into something more delicate and elaborate.”

The outcome is far removed from the version you’d find on family dinner tables. A creamy mixture of salt cod, fried potato, egg and onion arrives at the table hidden under a veil of wafer-thin slices of cod that have been coated in a black olive tapenade to create a cobbled visual. A final surprise comes when you break into the cobbled dome and spilt a confit egg yolk that has been resting in the middle of the salted cod mixture.

“I wanted to dislocate all these elements of the dish and try and make it as perfect as possible. When we launched it in the restaurant, it was an instant success. It was especially popular on social media because visually it is quite striking,” said Pessoa.

He assures visitors that a salt cod creation will also feature on the menu of his new restaurant, JOIA, which will open in London later this year. But though bacalhau is a traditional and well-explored ingredient for many natives across the country, Pessoa is still finding ways to push Portugal’s love for it into new territory.

Case in point: his “most Instagrammable” creation, Cobblestreet Cod, named for its likeness to the centuries-old streets outside Alma’s front door in the historical Chiado district. It’s a modern twist on an old peasant dish and one of the country’s most beloved salt cod recipes – bacalhau à bras – where typically shredded salt cod, fried matchstick potatoes and onions are all bound together with scrambled egg and garnished with black olives.

“I knew I couldn’t call it bacalhau à bras because the Portuguese are quite traditional, and people sometimes get offended when you play around with classics,” he explained. “I wanted to get inspired by this dish but elevate it presentation-wise, texture-wise and detail-wise into something more delicate and elaborate.”

The outcome is far removed from the version you’d find on family dinner tables. A creamy mixture of salt cod, fried potato, egg and onion arrives at the table hidden under a veil of wafer-thin slices of cod that have been coated in a black olive tapenade to create a cobbled visual. A final surprise comes when you break into the cobbled dome and spilt a confit egg yolk that has been resting in the middle of the salted cod mixture.

“I wanted to dislocate all these elements of the dish and try and make it as perfect as possible. When we launched it in the restaurant, it was an instant success. It was especially popular on social media because visually it is quite striking,” said Pessoa.

Pessoa’s bacalhau

dish is just one of the latest evolutions of a long culinary legacy, one that’s wrapped up in centuries of history little-known to those outside the country. It started towards the end of the 14th Century, when the Portuguese navy found that the dried and salted fish could be stored for years in holds, making it the perfect food for long ocean voyages.

In the mid-1500s, during Portugal’s maritime explorations and hunt to find the coast of India, they stumbled across waters rich with cod around Canada and Greenland; a major discovery that kickstarted Portuguese cod fishing. But by the 16th Century, Portuguese fishermen were pushed out by the French and English.

In the centuries that followed, Portugal became heavily dependent on England as the main exporter of cod, and by the 1800s, the ingredient was something enjoyed only by the aristocracy. However, cod’s popularity expanded in the 20th Century during the reign of Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, who wanted to bring it back home. His “cod campaign”, launched in 1934, looked to reignite Portugal’s fishing (and drying) industry and instate cod as a national symbol. Thousands of Portuguese fishermen were sent to Canada and Greenland to fish for cod, with some bringing back up to 900 tonnes per boat.

But this was long, gruelling and often dangerous work, and many men never made it back home to their families. It continued even during World War Two when one Portuguese lugger – the Maria da Glória – was bombed as it headed towards the fishing banks on the west coast of Greenland, killing 36 people on board. These conditions still plague the industry today, with global fatality rates thought to top 24,000 a year, according to the Seafarers Rights International.

It’s this complex history that makes Portugal’s love for cod so deep-rooted, and it’s why Portuguese food expert and chef Leandro Carreira dedicated more than 50 recipes to the product in his new book Portugal, The Cookbook. In total, it features more than 550 traditional recipes from across the country, including a raw salt cod salad, which mixes bacalhau together with barbecued red bell peppers, onions, garlic and parsley.

“If I didn’t include [salt cod], I would have been in a lot of trouble,” said Carreira. “Cod has become so embedded in our culture over the centuries, since the trade of salt began so it was so hard to choose which recipes would feature in the book.”

That love of salt cod still rings true today. “I know people who have eaten cod for more than 30 years every day,” Carreira said. “My grandmother used to eat the same cod dish – cod with boiled potatoes, raw onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and parsley – every single day for lunch. Even I, and everyone I know, had cod at least twice a week.

“Cod is an incredibly flexible product. You can grill it, steam it, bake it, deep fry, you can make a cake with it, have it raw after soaking it in water. So, if you combine this with its affordability and its accessibility, you can see why [it’s popular].”

You can grill it, steam it, bake it, deep fry, you can make a cake with it, have it raw after soaking it in water.

Portugal today imports around 70% of its cod from Norway; the Norwegian Seafood Council describes Portugal as “by far the biggest market for Norwegian cod”. They add that out of the 100,000 tonnes Norway exports annually to Portugal, 95% is salted.

In Norway’s remote and icy fishing island of Røst, they even have a name reserved for the heaviest of cod catches: “Portuguese cod,” said Pessoa, who, as a former ambassador for the Norwegian Seafood Council, visited the island several times. “They know Portugal will pay the best price for that cod.”

This is echoed by Rita Karlsen, chief executive of Norway’s Brødrene Karlsen, which has been exporting salted and dried cod to Portugal since the company’s beginning in 1932. “Portugal is very important [to Norwegian cod exporters]; it’s the most important country that we sell to,” she said. “We couldn’t have survived without Portugal.”

This influence has spread far and wide to countries like Brazil, which imported 8.6 tonnes of salt cod during the Easter period alone in 2019, or Angola, which imported 308 tonnes of salt cod from Norway in 2012, according to the Interpretative Center of the History of Cod, Lisbon’s museum dedicated to the fish. In Italy, they even hold a salt cod festival, Festa del Bacala, every year near Venice, and in the Tuscan region they favour classics such as baccalà alla livornese, which marries salt cod with a rich, garlicky tomato sauce.

For other chefs in Portugal, salt cod bridges the past and present. Like Marlene Vieira, MasterChef Portugal judge, head chef of two Lisbon restaurants and the only female face within the chef’s wing of Lisbon’s Time Out Market, where her salt cod pataniscas (fritters) have won her accolades.

She explained how the fritter recipe was passed down from her grandmother, who came from a poor background. This meant she typically used the cheaper tail cuts of the fish in the batter, which had less moisture and resulted in a crispier finish “like tempura” – an excellent companion to the roasted red pepper and garlic mayonnaise that Vieira now serves with it.

As a child, she remembers helping her grandmother in the kitchen “to do the things she wouldn’t like to do”, like peeling onions, garlic and of course carefully picking out any bones left in the salt cod.

Today, while nodding to tradition, Vieira is keen to further promote the fish along with seafood local to Portugal – and her high-end restaurant Marlene focuses on just that. She even cooks it at home for her daughter, who, she said, “loves, loves, loves cod” – proof perhaps that despite the lengths the country has to go to secure this North Atlantic fish, the passion for it will continue to flow through Portuguese veins for generations to come.

–BBC

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Chef Heenkenda, Thai Mama and Chef Singh join Mövenpick’s galaxy of shining culinary experts.

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Mövenpick amplifies its Japanese, Thai, North and South Indian offerings

In the city hotel’s endeavor to continually provide guests with novel and refreshing gastronomic experiences, three talented chefs – the famed, Chef Heenkenda, the much-loved Thai Mama and Indian culinary wizard Chef Mangal Singh have joined Mövenpick’s galaxy of shining culinary experts. These brilliant Chefs who have excelled in their respective gastronomic genres have joined the hotel’s exceptional culinary team to provide guests with unforgettable dining experiences. Culinary Services Director Chef Priyantha Weerasinghe heads the handpicked culinary team at Mövenpick.

Chef Heenkenda who has introduced incredible Japanese offerings in multiple hotels has transformed The Robata, Thai and Japanese Restaurant with an outstanding culinary repertoire of Japanese Cuisine with over 30 exciting sushi dishes along with 115 new dishes that will take tastebuds straight to the land of the rising sun. Having excelled in Japanese Cuisine for nearly 2 decades he has worked in local 5-star hotels and overseas as a mentee under Japanese chefs. In Abu Dhabi Chef Heenkenda worked together with Michelin Starred Chef, Chef Eric Hunter who was his mentor for 5 years. Chef Heenkenda is a talented culinary maestro who excels in the entire gamut of Japanese Cuisine, including Sushi, Teppanyaki and Hot cuisine. His wide culinary experience will combine to make unique and inimitable, Japanese creations that Mövenpick guests can savour and enjoy with friends and family.

To greatly augment the Robata repertoire Mövenpick also welcomed Chef Arjee Jithman famously known as Thai Mama, who has transformed Thai cuisine in Sri Lanka. Hailing from Bangkok Thailand, Thai Mama discovered her passion to pursue culinary arts at an early age while helping her mother cook authentic Thai dishes at home. She later moved to Sri Lanka to further her knowledge and has made this her island home for over nine years, tantalizing both local and international tastebuds with her exceptional Thai culinary skills, taking guests on unforgettable gastronomic journeys infused with delicate herbs and sweet and sour tones. Thai Mama is delighted to provide diners at Robata with a brand-new array of her notable Thai dishes such as the spicy Tom Yum Soup, Pineapple Fried Rice, Thai Papaya Salad, Chu Chi Goon and fish fresh from the sea, marinated in curry chili paste infused with special Thai herbs.

Chef Mangal Singh, who specializes in South and North Indian cuisine, has been curated the most flavorsome Indian cuisine for a decade at Sri Lankan 5-Star resorts and trendy restaurants in Mumbai and Delhi. Chef Singh will be heading the brand-new Indian Restaurant to be launched at Movenpick. Chef Singh has also studied under Chef Bruno and Chef Anack during his career stint in Thailand. With 13 years of experience in preparing Indian cuisine from the North such as Chicken Makani, Biriyani, Goan Curry and Mutton Roghan Josh, Chef Singh’s Indian repertoire is wide and colourful. Guests can expect special Thalis featuring both North and South Indian favourites. Having grown up in the snowcapped misty Himalayas, Chef Singh was inspired by his mother’s recipes, many of which will be delightful features at the new Indian Restaurant to be launched at Mövenpick. His favourite dishes that promise to tantalize guests include, Mutton Biriyani, Rasams, butter chicken, including a very special Indian homemade chutney.

For over half a decade the famed Swiss Brand has introduced guests in Colombo from across the world to an intriguing and fascinating gastronomic journey, encapsulated in a luxurious and artistically stunning interior. Mövenpick Globally holds a growing portfolio of more than 80 hotels in 24 countries and is a part of AccorHotels, a world-leading travel and lifestyle Group comprising 5000 hotels, resorts and residences with over 1 million rooms worldwide.

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