India is Positioned on the Obesity Curve: Recent Study


At a time when India is already grappling with a substantial burden of non-communicable diseases—heart disease, strokes, and diabetes being prominent among them—the emergence of an obesity epidemic is a cause for concern, particularly among the youth. A recent global analysis published in The Lancet sheds light on this issue, revealing that in 2022, 12.5 million children (7.3 million boys and 5.2 million girls) aged between five and 19 in India were classified as severely overweight, marking a significant increase from 0.4 million in 1990.

The report underscores a prevalence of over three percent among children and adolescents, demonstrating a notable rise from 1990. Moreover, obesity rates among adults are also alarming, with a sharp increase in female obesity prevalence—9.8 percent for women, reflecting an increase of 8.6 percentage points since 1990. Among men, the prevalence stands at 5.4 percent, showing a rise of 4.9 percentage points. Obesity, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is characterized by an abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat, posing significant health risks. A body mass index (BMI) over 25 is considered overweight, while over 30 is classified as obese.

The study further highlights that 44 million women and 26 million men aged above 20 in India were identified as obese in 2022, a substantial increase from 2.4 million women and 1.1 million men in 1990. India’s global rankings for obesity prevalence in 2022 are concerning, ranking 182nd among 197 countries for women and 180th for men. Among children, the country ranks 174th globally for both girls and boys.

This revelation is particularly noteworthy given the existing burden of non-communicable diseases in India, with obesity serving as a significant risk factor and an early trigger for conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, even among teenagers.

Dr. Guha Pradeepa, a co-author of the study and the Head of the Department of Research Operations and Diabetes Complications at the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation, identifies the primary drivers behind the obesity epidemic in India—namely, a shift in dietary preferences away from traditional foods and reduced physical activity.

According to Dr. Pradeepa, there has been a departure from whole foods such as pulses, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which were staples of the traditional Indian diet. Instead, there’s been a transition towards a diet characterized by high energy but low nutrient content, featuring refined carbohydrates, high-fat foods, meat products, and processed foods. Additionally, she points out that various behavioral factors could also contribute to the rising obesity rates among children.

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