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‘Obesity Is a Ticking Timebomb in India’: Experts on New Lancet Study

The study found that in India, obesity in kids went up from 0.4 million in 1990 to 12.5 million in 2022.

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Obesity in India, particularly among young children has increased manifold according to a new study published in the medical journal, Lancet on 29 February.

FIT spoke to doctors to decode the findings of the study and what the findings indicate about India's health.

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Accordingly to the World Health Organisation, clinical obesity is determined by one's Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI of over 25 is considered overweight, and a BMI of over 30 is considered obese.

Big points from the study: The study analysed data of underweight and obesity from 3663 population-representative studies in national populations of 200 countries from 1990 to 2022. It found:

  • 879 million adults were obese in 2022 worldwide.

  • 159 million children between the ages of 5 and 19 were obese in 2020 compared to

  • The prevalence of obesity increased by 94 percent among women in 188 countries from 1990 to 2022.

Zooming into India:

  • The study found that in India, obesity in children between the ages of 5 and 19 has gone up from 0.4 million in 1990 to 12.5 million children in 2022.

  • Obesity among women over the age of 20 has gone up manyfold from 2.4 million women in 1990 to 44 million in 2022.

  • 26 million men in the same age group were found to be obese in 1990, while in 1990, 1.1 million men were obese.

Why it matters: According to the study, the prevalence of obesity in India is still low compared to other countries on the list, with India ranking 182 out of 197 countries for the prevalence of obesity in women, and 180 for men in 2022.

However, experts say the situation is rapidly changing.

"India is right now sitting on the timebomb that is obesity. In my practice, every 4th or 5th person I come across is clinically obese or overweight," says Dr Sanjay Verma, Director of Minimal Access, GI and Bariatric Surgery, Fortis Escorts, Okhla Road, New Delhi.

"The study's findings about the rise in obesity among children is particularly concerning," says Dr Atul Peters, Senior Director, Bariatric, Minimal Access & General Surgery, Max Smart Super Specialty Hospital, India.

He adds,

"Previous studies have also found that kids of obese parents have a higher chance of being obese."

Indians need to be extra careful, say experts.

The recent guidelines have reduced the benchmark for indians by 2 and a half points. That means now for Indians, from between 15 to 20 is taken as a normal BMI and beyond 25 is taken as obesity class 1, beyond 30 is class 2, and beyond 35 is class three. What we have realised is that Indians even at a lower BMI have more central or circumferential fat also known as visceral fat."

Although the rate of obesity was found to be higher in women on the whole, Dr Verma says men need to be cautious too. He says, "In males it is mostly truncal obesity which may not be as visible but is dangerous just the same because in this case the fat is stored in the abdominal region."

Studies suggest that truncal obesity has stronger links to cardiovascular issues compared to overall obesity.

Moreover, contrary to popular belief, obesity isn't just a rich people problem, even in India. "Though people usually say that obesity rates are higher in those of higher economic status, what I have seen is that even in the of lower economic status, the prevalence of obesity is high because of a carb-rich diet as well as ultra-processed food being more affordable and accessible than healthy food," says Dr Peters.

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