Obesity rising among children, adults in India; experts raise concern

#India, #Obesity

Representative image.

There has been a rise in obesity among children under five years of age with 33 states and union territories registering a spike in the number of overweight children, according to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS).

Experts attributed the increase in obesity to lack of physical activity and unhealthy food habits.

The number of overweight children increased from 2.1 percent in NFHS-4 to 3.4 percent in NFHS-5.

Not just children, obesity among women and men also increased.

The percentage of overweight women rose from 20.6 percent to 24 percent while in men the number increased from 18.9 percent to 22.9 percent, according to the NFHS-5.

According to the NFHS-5, several states and union territories, including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Mizoram, Tripura, Lakshadweep, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Ladakh, have registered increase in the percentage of obesity among children below five years of age in comparison to NFHS-4 conducted between 2015 and 2016.

Only Goa, Tamil Nadu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu registered a drop in the number of overweight children under five years of age, the data showed.

According to the survey data, 30 states and union territories registered a rise in obesity among women while 33 states and UTs recorded an increase in obesity among men.

Men and women were counted as obese whose body mass index was found to be over or equal to 25.0 kg/m2 while children’s obesity was counted in terms of weight-for-height.

Healthcare experts have attributed the rise in obesity to unhealthy food choices and lack of physical activity among children and even adults.

Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director at the Population Foundation of India, said behind the trend of increasing obesity among Indian women, men and children over the past 15 years, confirmed by NFHS-5, are rising incomes, poor dietary habits, and unhealthy life choices.

“Sustained economic growth over the past 15 years has led to a marked increase in people’s incomes. We know that obesity among Indians goes up as they become wealthier. In 2015-16, according to NFHS-4, the proportion of overweight or obese men was five per cent among families in the lowest wealth quintile and 33 per cent in the highest wealth quintile,” she said.

“Similarly, the proportion of overweight or obese women was six per cent among families in the lowest wealth quintile and 36 per cent in the highest wealth quintile. However, blaming rising incomes is not fair. Much has also to do with poor eating habits. The consumption of unhealthy foods (popularly termed junk foods) that are high in calories from sugar or fat and contain little dietary fibre, protein, vitamins, and minerals is known to increase as families become wealthier,” Muttreja said.

Besides these problems, a vast majority of Indians do not seem to recognise the importance of leading a healthy and active life.

They tend to lead sedentary lives and lack the motivation to doing exercise of any kind including going for walks.

Sadly, parents do not seem to realise the adverse consequences of these life choice decisions they make on the health and nutritional well-being of children, she added.

Dr Antaryami Dash, Head, Nutrition, Save the Children, India, said every nation is entering into a situation with double burden of malnutrition where there is a co-existence of undernutrition (stunting/wasting/underweight) and overnutrition (overweight/ obesity) at the population level.

The prevalence is highest in western and industrialised countries, but gradually catching up in developing countries.

“Although current understanding of the health consequences of overweight and obesity is predominately based on adult studies, increasing evidence suggests that childhood obesity has a number of immediate, intermediate, and long-term health consequences. This is arising out of an obesogenic environment, which includes changing food systems and reduced physical activity,” Dash said.

He said although cost-effective interventions such as WHO’s ‘best buys’ have been identified, political will and implementation have so far been limited.

There is a need for effective programmes and policies in multiple sectors to address overnutrition, undernutrition, mobility and physical activity, he added.

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