According to a government survey, Indians are becoming fatter. Experts warn of a health crisis unless the problem of obesity is addressed on a military basis.
Obesity was once viewed as a problem in the West. But it has become a growing problem in India and other low- and middle-income countries.
It was long known for being a country of underweight and malnourished people. However, in recent years, it has risen to the top five in terms of obesity.
According to one estimate, 135 million Indians were obese or overweight in 2016. According to health experts, this number is on the rise and India's population that is overweight or obese is replacing it.
The latest National Family Health Survey (5 (NFHS-5) is the largest household survey of social indicators and health. Nearly 23% of men were found to have a BMI of 25 or higher, which represents a 4% increase over 2015-16. Data also show that 3.4% of children younger than 5 years old are overweight, compared to 2.1% in 2015-16.
"We are facing an obesity epidemic in India, as well as globally. I fear it could soon turn into a pandemic," warns Dr Ravindran Kumeran (a surgeon in Chennai (Madras), and founder of Obesity Foundation of India.
Dr Kumeran cites the sedentary lifestyle and easy access to cheap, fattening food as the main reasons that "most of us", especially in urban India are out of shape.
The most widely accepted method to determine whether someone is "normal", obese, overweight, or obese is BMI. It is calculated by taking into account an individual's weight and height. A BMI greater than 25 is considered overweight, according to the World Health Organization.
Dr Kumeran, along with many other experts in health, believes that South Asians need to adjust their BMI at least two points lower for each stage. This is because South Asians are more likely to develop "central obesity" which is a condition where we gain belly fat that's worse than any weight elsewhere on the body. A 23-year-old Indian would be considered overweight if they have a BMI of 23.
Dr Kumeran says, "If 23 is the cut-off for overweight, I believe half of India's population - certain the urban population – would be overweight."
WHO states that too much body fat can increase the risk of non-communicable conditions such as 13 types of cancer, type-2 diabetes and heart problems. Last year, worldwide, obesity was responsible for 2.8 million deaths.
Former president of the International Federation for the Surgery of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders, Dr Pradeep Chowbey says that every 10kg of excess weight can reduce life expectancy by three years. If someone is 50kg overweight, it could lead to a 15-year loss of life. Also, we found that the mortality rate for obese and overweight patients was three times higher during Covid."