Free Press Journal

Why obesity and malnutrition are afflicting India


India is one of the top five countries with highest obesity level in the world

India is leading now in obesity cases as well malnutrition issues. Sapna Sarfare finds out the complex reality and suggests ways to deal with it

What were the fat chances that Indians are now replacing Americans as being the obese citizens of the world? But now we have replaced them and it includes kids. However, we also see major cases of malnutrition. This year saw the arrival of Egyptian citizen and world’s fattest woman Iman Abdulati to India for treatment. But her issues eventually led to her death. So it is vital that we look into our contradictory health issues of obesity and malnutrition afflicting our country.

Rise of obesity

Dr Sharad Sharma, Laparoscopic and Bariatric Surgeon, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, reveals, “The incidence is about 10 – 20% amongst adults while it is about 24 % amongst adolescents. More young adults, especially with diabetes, are turning up for bariatric surgery.”

Dr Arun Prasad, Senior Consultant (Gastro intestinal, Robotic & Thoracoscopy), Apollo Hospital, New Delhi, lays sole blame on unhealthy life practices adopted these days. “Especially the younger generation, that is now more sedentary, gadget bound with limited outdoor sports and consumes junk, ready to eat calorie dense and refined items regularly.”

Pallavi Srivastava Ramchandani, Fitness Nutritionist, Proprietor, Q-Slim Fitness Studio, gives more statistics. “A recent study states that, India on its one hand has one of the highest numbers of undernourished population, and on the other hand has also recorded into top 5 countries with highest obesity level in the world. I get a lot of clients with different medical conditions along with obesity. 70 % of the clients suffer from Hypothyroid, Hypertension, PCOD, Cholesterol, Diabetes, Acidity, Abdominal Bloating and other medical conditions.”

Reasons For Rise

Dr Moksha Gowda, M.B.B.S, DNB (General surgery), Fortis La Femme, Bangalore finds many reasons for the rise – mostly manageable. “These include unhealthy lifestyle and eating habits, hectic working schedules and rapid urbanisation. In addition, Indians are genetically programmed to have truncal obesity making the situation grim.”

Dr Priyanka Rohtagi, Senior Consultant (Dietician), Apollo Hospital, New Delhi, agrees and adds, “This is a stark contrast to our millions of years of evolution because human body is not made to be idle. Sedentary lifestyle contributes to development of all sorts of diseases which decrease the life-expectancy of an individual. ​”

With more global food market entering India and alluring adverts, Pallavi feels we, especially the younger generation, are consuming unhealthier junk food. “India is also seeing the trend of increase in the income of the middle class. Thus there is a rise in the total caloric consumption of the individual in the middle class and the upper income strata. Now people are no longer eating only during meals. We tend to eat while watching movies, television, while chatting up, etc. A study shows that the more time we spend in front of the screen the more we tend to get fatter.”

Dealing the right way?

The question is of our way to dealing with the issue. We also are curious to know if cases like Iman’s will be seen in our country more. Pallavi sees people preferring to sweat it out in A/C gyms. “Due to lifestyle change, there is less amount of time to eat meals. Thus finger foods on the go are what people opt for nowadays. Alcohol consumption is increasing amongst younger generations which cause more accumulation of fat and increase in the sugary foods craving. Thus more cases like Iman’s are growing. On the other hand, there are different sects of people in the urban cities who are now gaining more knowledge and focusing on eating healthy, thus improving their lifestyle.”

Dr Prasad, on the other hand, feels that people mostly ignores things and go for action when complications comes near. “Concept of obesity is the mother of diseases is not well understood.​ The number of obese people is certainly growing. There is a danger that we may have to face such a situation in the near future if extensive work is not done to raise awareness about the hazardous dangers of obesity.”

Obesity & malnutrition together

Of course, the interesting fact is that obesity and malnutrition co-exist here. Dr Sharad reveals, “Obesity is about calories and nutrition is about healthy food. A person can be malnourished as well as obese.  Today there are high calorie foods available in plenty which are devoid of nutrition.”

Dr Rohtagi explains, “An obese person has more fats deposit in his/her body but they may not be consuming adequate amount of vitamins and minerals required for proper functioning. They may suffer from malabsorption challenges. This is majorly the case with people who consume high quantities of junk food. In actual terms malnutrition is of 2 types (under and over) and obesity is very much a part of malnutrition too.​”

As per Pallavi’s views, India’s lower income strata and rural populace suffer from malnutrition more. “Only eating less amount of food or insufficiency to get the optimum daily calorie needed by the person does not define malnutrition. It can also be caused by diarrhoea due to open defecation and unhygienic eating habits, unable to breast feed, and deficiency of different micro nutrients. Having a full stomach does not mean your meal is nutritionally full.”

Dealing with obesity

Dr Rohtagi advises, “If an idle mind is the playground of the devil then idle body is a haven for diseases. But don’t just bank on exercise because consuming a balanced diet is equally important. It will provide your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs to facilitate the body functions.”

Dr Prasad considers self-control as the best way to control obesity. “Apart from the rare cases, where it is not due to a bad lifestyle, most cases can be solved with disciplined approach. In case one is unable to discern the approach, always visit a certified dietician. If despite everything, one if unable to lose weight, then approach a doctor to find the problem and seek treatment.”

Pallavi wants everyone to choose consciously. “One should not focus on following a diet from the internet or F.A.D Diets as they only give you water loss and temporary weight loss. Couple a healthy workout to keep your body agile and burn those extra fats. Focus on balancing your diet with proteins, healthy fats and complex carbs. Many more complex obesities coupled with health issues can be tackled with obesity surgeries like sleeve gastrectomy, gastric banding. One should focus on what nutrients are required day to day and what needs to be consumed. Opt for optimum amount of water every day.”