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India’s growing crisis of obesity

<em><strong>Many Indians are embracing 'westernised' diets with an emphasis on junk food, contributing to higher rates of obesity in the country. And the crisis is only going to get worse in the years to come. </strong></em>
Many Indians are embracing ‘westernised’ diets with an emphasis on junk food, contributing to higher rates of obesity in the country. And the crisis is only going to get worse in the years to come. 

India is battling a full-blown crisis of obesity, one which is anticipated only to worsen in the years to come. 

More than 135 million Indians are affected by obesity, according to a study published earlier this year. Meanwhile, research indicates that the condition no longer strictly discriminates along class lines. “We found evidence suggesting it may no longer be considered a ‘diseases of affluence’,” read research published last year in The British Medical Journal, nor is it a disease limited to just India’s cities. 

“Between 1998 and 2016, overweight/obesity prevalence increased among men and women in both urban and rural areas,” the paper said. Whilst there was a higher prevalence of overweight and obesity among those in a higher socioeconomic position (SEP), the study notes that “overweight/obesity prevalence increased considerably over the study period among lower SEP adults.” Meanwhile, “in rural areas, more similar increases in overweight/obesity prevalence were found among all individuals across the study period, irrespective of SEP.” 

135 million Indians are affected by overweight and obesity.

The crisis of obesity in India is only expected to get worse, especially among its young people. Together with China, India will be a chief driver of the explosion of childhood obesity by 2030, when 250 million children worldwide will be obese. In India, more than 27 million children will be obese by that year. This is compared to eleven million obese children at present. As such, by 2030, India will surpass the United States as the country with the second highest number of obese children. 

The reasons behind this trend are manifold. Research indicates that economic growth correlates with fewer cases of stunting and wasting, both conditions linked to undernourishment, but also with higher obesity rates. Greater availability of processed produce and fast food contributing to increased consumption of so-called ‘westernised’ diets, a transition in employment from manual labour to white collar work, and lesser levels of physical activity are other factors. 

The effects, meanwhile, are widespread and far-reaching. Obesity negatively affects productivity and educational performance, impairing economic growth. For the individual, meanwhile, obesity has numerous deleterious health effects, upping the risk of numerous noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease – India’s most common cause of death and one which is already increasing in prevalence. Already, children in India are witnessing higher risk of conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol. More than ten percent of children in India are prediabetic. 

To counteract the trend, India has launched numerous campaigns in recent months. The Eat Right India movement promotes the value to health and importance of a nutritious, adequate and balanced diet. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is moving towards eliminating trans fats from the country’s food supply by 2022 – one year ahead of the World Health Organization’s targets for the same. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched a Fit India movement to encourage Indians to participate in more exercise.  

October 11th marks World Obesity Day, an opportunity for India to promote awareness of its crisis of obesity, the condition’s risks to health, wellbeing, and lifestyle, and how best to prevent them. India must take note of the current trends and statistics and work towards alleviating the nation’s burden of overweight and obesity – of vital necessity to public health and the health of the country overall.

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