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Rising levels of obesity needs attention

Our bodies need a balanced diet to stay healthy, and even a slight change can be harmful.
01:58 AM Jun 12, 2024 IST | Guest Contributor
rising levels of obesity needs attention

Over the past three decades, there has been an unprecedented rise in obesity levels in India. At the same time, undernutrition is also on the rise. A new Lancet study indicates that India is battling a double burden, confronting both of these growing issues simultaneously. According to the study, obesity in India increased from 1.2% in 1990 to 9.8% in 2022.


The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies the fundamental cause of obesity and overweight as an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults worldwide (39%) were obese.


The worldwide prevalence of obesity nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016. In 2019, an estimated 38.2 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese.


What is Obesity?


Obesity means an excess of fats in the human body that has negative effects. It usually results from consuming more calories than the body can use, leading to the accumulation of abnormal fats that pose significant health risks. Obesity is determined by the body mass index (BMI), which is the weight of the body in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters (kg/m²). A BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.


Various factors contribute to obesity, including excessive eating, physical inactivity, and an imbalanced diet. Obesity is a complex issue that significantly contributes to human mortality. Some symptoms include difficulty sleeping (sleep apnea), back or joint pain, excessive sweating, intolerance to heat, fatigue, depression, and a feeling of shortness of breath (dyspnea).


What Causes Obesity?


There are many causes of obesity in humans, ranging from lifestyle eating habits to physical inactivity. Obesity is often a sign of unhealthiness. The imbalanced intake of calories in food is a primary cause. Our bodies need a balanced diet to stay healthy, but even a slight change can be harmful.

The market's profit-at-any-cost approach also leads to obesity. Processed foods and artificial sweeteners are harmful to human consumption and are associated with other diseases like fatty liver and diabetes.

Another major reason for obesity is physical inactivity, which makes a person dull and lazy. Without physical activity, excess fats are not burned off, contributing to obesity. Moreover, high carbohydrate intake increases appetite, leading to more hunger and, consequently, overeating.

Social factors also contribute to obesity. Lack of participation in games and sports, spending excessive time watching TV, and playing online games worsen health. The rise of e-commerce and online shopping reduces physical movement, contributing to obesity.

Urbanization has also affected human health by making various conveniences readily available, boosting obesity rates. The work-from-home culture, which became widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic, has further restricted physical activity, indirectly weakening people. Laziness, a paradoxical factor, is both a cause and effect of obesity, creating a vicious cycle.

Medications like steroids and antidepressants also contribute to obesity. Obesity can occur at any age, and in children, it leads to respiratory problems and other health issues.

How Does Obesity Affect Us?

Besides laziness, obesity and being overweight have many detrimental effects. Obesity reduces overall growth and development in individuals and the country as a whole. Students may struggle to study, workers may not perform efficiently, and institutions may not function optimally, negatively impacting the economy.

Obesity leads to various lifestyle and non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases (CVD), polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD), and breast cancer, worsening public health. It also affects human capital formation, reducing the developmental potential of the population.

Obesity changes people's tastes and preferences, leading them to prefer sedentary activities like watching TV and online shopping over physical activities. Obese individuals often face social exclusion and discrimination, leading to feelings of inferiority and depression. They may also experience body shaming, which can lead to mood disorders.

Obesity affects nearly every part of the body, including the brain, blood vessels, heart, liver, gallbladder, bones, and joints. It significantly increases the risk of stroke and other health issues, reducing overall well-being and quality of life.

India and Obesity: The Journey So Far

Traditionally, India relied on subsistence farming and vegetables for food. After the Green Revolution and subsequent liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation, the Indian food culture changed significantly. Preferences shifted towards processed, oily, sweet, and junk foods, negatively impacting health.

According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), nearly one in 16 women and one in 25 men in India is obese. One-fourth of young women and a little over a fifth of young men are overweight. A survey conducted at Anganwadi centers across the country found that more than 4.3 million children under 5 were overweight or obese.

Among women, obesity rates increased from 1.2% in 1990 to 9.8% in 2022, and among men, from 0.5% to 5.4%. The Lancet study shows similar increases among children, with obesity rates rising from 0.1% in 1990 to 3.1% in 2022 for girls and from 0.1% to 3.9% for boys. In 2022, India ranked 174th highest in the world for obesity prevalence among girls and boys.

How to Overcome This Growing Health Crisis?

To reduce obesity, people should choose healthier foods like whole grains, vegetables, and protein sources. A balanced diet is essential for obese individuals. Improving sleep, cultivating healthy habits, cutting calories, and reducing screen time can also help. Physical activity is crucial for burning excess calories and fats.

Providing awareness about the ill effects of obesity is essential. Regular medical checkups and patience are needed to manage obesity effectively. In the end, it is not money or property but health that is the real wealth.

BY Amir Bashir Jan Sheikh

Amir Bashir Jan Sheikh is pursuing a Masters in Political Science & International Relations.