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Obesity not just the domain of India’s wealthy classes, report finds

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Related tags Obesity

One-third of Indians suffer from potbelly abdominal obesity, with the condition no longer limited to the affluent classes, according to a new figures.

According to the Indian Medical Association, over 30% of Indians, including children, suffer from potbelly abdominal obesity, a metabolic syndrome characterised by abdominal obesity, high triglyceride, low good cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

Releasing the figures ahead of the recent World Anti-Obesity Day, the IMA blamed the surge in obesity on widespread unhealthy lifestyle choices, including high-fat, sugar and cholesterol diets, long working hours, little exercise and widespread alcohol and tobacco consumption.

In a separate report​, co-compiled by the Asian Institute of Public Health in Odisha, researchers have found that one in four middle-aged Indians in the low and middle income group is obese. 

This conflicts with the widely recognised opinion that the condition affects mainly the well-heeled levels of society, suggesting that obesity has trickled down to all levels of society.

The researchers have based their findings on a nationally representative survey of more than 7,000 respondents in 2010 from six Indian states.

The survey, which included measurements of height, weight, waist circumference, and blood pressure, was part of an international study on global ageing and adult health, and involved only those aged 50 and above.

Eight out of 10 of the participants either had no paid job or lived on traditional subsistence or unskilled labour. And three quarters were either illiterate or had only a primary school education.

Analysis of the data showed that 14% of the sample were overweight, while more than one in three had a midriff bulge, known as central adiposity—a figure rising to half among the highest-earning third of the sample.

Women were particularly prone to central adiposity, with 69% of those among the better paid, and almost half of those on low to middling incomes affected.

Indians aspire to a big body size as a mark of prosperity, said the researchers, and this is likely to fuel the culture of excess calorie intake, especially as generations of Indians have historically experienced chronic food shortages.

But, coupled with the country's growing purchasing power as a result of its rapid economic growth, this is likely to prompt a rapid rise in obesity across all levels of society, they said.

Population-based promotion of appropriate lifestyles, with special emphasis on women, is required to counteract prosperity-driven obesity before it becomes too entrenched and expensive to uproot​," they warned.

Other stories from South Asia…

India readies to combat malnutrition through fortification programme

The Indian government is preparing legislation to combat high levels of child malnutrition with a focus on dietary supplements. 


"With a large-scale prevalence of micro-nutrient deficiencies and its impact on growth and development, especially in young children, adolescents, and pregnant and lactating mothers, we have initiated a process to put in place legislative measures regarding food fortification​," a government source told the PTI new agency. 

Fortification, along with encouraging more diverse diets, would be used to address issues of micro-nutrient deficiency by including iron, vitamins, iodine and folic acid, he said.

He said a meeting between government departments had taken place to discuss the different options for the fortification of staple food items including wheat flour, rice, salt, milk and cooking oils as a means to lower the impact of under-nutrition, stunting, anemia and hypothyroidism. 

"The important issues which were flagged were economic viability of food fortification, potential strategies and likely approaches​," PTI’s source said.

Food processing minister calls for FDI in produce retail

India’s food processing minister has called on the government to open up the perishables segment to foreign retailers, claiming the move would benefit local fruit and vegetable producers.


Speaking to Economic Times, Harsimrat Kaur Badal said opening up foreign direct investment would also help consumers by driving down operating costs.

While full foreign direct investment is currently allowed in food processing, this is not the case in fruit and vegetable segment.

Big companies would definitely create a chain of infrastructure, bringing the latest technology and the scale​,” Badal told the daily, calling FDI in fruit, agriculture and perishable processing “a great idea​”.

I would definitely welcome it as it would give a boost to the sector, help the farmers, and help the industry if FDI were allowed,​” Badal said.

While international firms are interested in entering the produce retail market, they have been unable to approach her while the subject is off the table, she added.

This is something that I have been writing about and talking about​. We have to talk to states and come to a consensus on that,​” Badal said. 

e-Commerce start-up brings Ayurvedic formulation to an app, a digital healthcare marketplace, has launched a customised supplement that is formulated for a range of conditions based on a consumer’s responses to an app questionnaire. 


The mobile app asks questions on height, weight, age, problem area and family history before devising an personalised, Ayurveda-based supplement.

BL Mittal, SastaSundar’s co-founder, said the DNavita supplement was made using pure ingredients and processed under hygienic conditions.

He said: “We are taking an important step in our quality journey which serves as an assurance of high quality throughout the value chain​. 

We are sure of meeting the growing demand for this high quality product as our stringent systems and processes have resulted in a product that stands out in the market in terms of its quality​.”

Fellow co-founder RK Sharma stressed that DNativa was not a ready-made product. “It will be prepared as per the requirement and convenience of the customer,” he said. 

"In today's mechanical life when we are losing touch with nature, DNativa promises to connect you with nature through natural means​.”

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