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Poshan Maah 2021: India’s New Health Scare – Obesity, Experts Say We Need To Tackle It On An Urgent Basis

As India marks Poshan Maan 2021, NDTV speaks with experts to know about the causes and remedies to tackle – rising obesity among people and children in India

Poshan Maan 2021: India’s New Health Scare - Obesity, Experts Say We Need To Tackle It On An Urgent Basis

New Delhi: Obesity is fast emerging to be a health crisis that brings with it many other diseases. According to the Indian Journal of Community Medicine presently India haS more than 135 million obese people. The study mentions that the country is under the double burden of under-nutrition and over-nutrition.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines obesity as excessive fat accumulation that presents several health risks. A Body Mass Index (BMI) over 25 is considered overweight, and above 30, it is considered obese.

Also Read: Late-Childhood Obesity Associated With Low-Quality Maternal Diet During Pregnancy: Study

Experts feel obesity will be the next biggest health scare India will face in the coming few years.

Indians are racing above average in the prevalence of overweight people. A report by National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) predicted that by 2030, 27.8 percent of all those overweight in the world would be Indians, and in terms of obesity, the ‘Indian Obese’ would account for 5 percent of the world’s population.

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 5 survey released by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, conducted in the year 2019-20 also found a drastic rise in obesity among children under five years of age in 20 out of the 22 states, where the study was conducted.

According to the NFHS-5 data, several states and Union Territories, including the bigger states/UTs like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Mizoram, Tripura, Lakshadweep, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, have shown a several fold increase in the percentage of obesity among children below five years of age in comparison to NFHS-4 conducted between 2015 and 2016.

In Maharashtra, the increase of children under 5 years who are overweight is up from 1.9 per cent in 2015-16 to 4.1 per cent in 2019-20. Whereas, in Gujarat, it has increased from 1.9 per cent to 3.9 per cent. About 13.4 % under the age of five were found to be obese in Ladakh which was highest among the 22 states and Union Territories surveyed, followed by Lakshadweep at 10.5%, Mizoram 10%, Jammu and Kashmir, and Sikkim 9.6% each.

Also Read: There Has Been Drastic Rise In Obesity Among Children Under 5-Years In 20 States, Reveals NFHS 5 Report

Talking about this, Basanta Kumar Kar, recipient of the Global Nutrition Leadership Award said that this growing trend of obesity in the country is largely because of unsafe diets, excess consumption of salt, sugar and fat including trans-fat. He added,

As per the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS)-2016-18, India already witnessed children with pre-diabetic condition. 10.3 per cent of school-age children and 10.4 per cent of adolescents are having pre-diabetic condition in our country and in the state of Odisha, 19.2 per cent of school-age children and 19 per cent of adolescent are with pre-diabetic condition. It signals an emergent action. India runs the risk of an impending nutrition famine and epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) related to poor nutrition. Non-communicable diseases, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung disease, are collectively responsible for almost 70 per cent of all deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Mr Kar also added that there is a greater need for the right investment during first 1,000-days. He said, “The first 1,000 days are called as First Window of Opportunity, if right nutrition is provided at that moment, it can have profound impact on reducing obesity in later years.”

Also Read: Obese People At Higher Risk Of Contracting Coronavirus, Suggests A Latest Study

Suggesting some of the ways in which India can move forward and fix its nutrition game, Mr Kar said,

We need a 360-degree action plan which facilitates good nutritious food in the market and at household levels. We can introduce sugary taxes and stop trans-fats across the states, our supermarket receipts should give us calories count. Maybe we can use ‘traffic light’ kind of labels on food packaging that can help people eat better and caution them for products that are high in fat or are bad for their overall health.

On the other hand, Sheila Vir, a public health nutrition expert and founder director of Public Health Nutrition and Development Centre said that there is also lack of awareness on what are good food habits. And since the high-fat and high-sugar foods are easily available, there is higher consumption of it. She added,

We have a double burden of undernutrition, malnutrition and overnutrition occurring together. And now in COVID-19 times, when the risk of obesity is at an all time high as many are sitting at home, there is lack of physical activity among children and even in adults. Therefore, all together a different approach is needed, when it comes to solving the issue of nutrition.

Also Read: Opinion: Childhood Obesity – One Of The Major Public Health Challenges Of The 21st Century

Terming the rise in obesity as a “Very disturbing trend”, Prof Dr. R. Somasekar, MD, DCH, FIAP; Prof of Paediatrics, Sree Balaji Medical College & Hospital said,

It is obvious that India is battling a full-blown crisis of obesity which is only anticipated to worsen in the years to come. The fundamental reason for this problem is the energy imbalance between the amount of calories consumed and the calories spent. Today, even amongst children, there is a global shift in the dietary pattern towards increasing intake of energy dense foods that are rich in fat and sugar and low in vitamins, minerals and other useful micronutrients. In addition there is also a trend towards decreased level of physical activity due to increasing sedentary nature of recreation, changing modes of transportation using vehicles and rapid urbanization.

How India Has Been Dealing With The Problem Of Obesity

India’s flagship nutrition programme – Poshan Abhiyaan, which was launched in 2018

has also identified obesity as a concerning factor in India. The third annual report of Poshan Abhiyan said that the nation needs to mobilize solid efforts to address the emerging and cross-cutting challenges of urbanization and Overweight-Obesity (O-O).

Along with Poshan Abhiyan, the government of India under Food Safety and Standards Authority of India also launched ‘Eat Right’ programme in the year 2017. The Eat Right India is aligned to the National Health Policy 2017 with its focus on preventive and promotive healthcare and flagship programmes like Ayushman Bharat, Poshan Abhiyaan, Anemia Mukt Bharat and Swacch Bharat Mission. The campaign focusses on making a social and behavioural change around food safety and nutrition at home, school, workplace and on-the-go. Another focus is on reduction of high fat, sugar and salt foods in the diet; and Food Fortification, focused on promoting five staple foods-wheat flour, rice, oil, milk and salt that are added with key vitamins and minerals to improve their nutritional content.

On fitness front, India launched the Fit India movement in 2019 with the aim of taking the nation on a path of fitness and wellness. As part of the movement, individuals and organisations can undertake various efforts for their own health and well-being.

However, experts feel that while some recognition has started to build up, a lot more visibility and awareness is still needed. They also feel India’s national programmes need to incorporate innovative ideas from the Obesity Policy Action (OPA) framework, modified from the World Health Organization framework for the implementation of the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, which highlights the need for multi-level policies by the government that promotes healthy, nutritious products in the market and ways for tackling noncommunicable diseases. Nutrition and health expert Basanta Kumar Kar feels that India needs to review the take home rations, midday meals as well in an effort to check Obesity-Overweight (O-O). 

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene


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