India’s Paradox: An Obese and Undernourished Nation
Obesity and undernutrition – the two extremes of malnutrition are almost equally prevalent in India.
Obesity and undernutrition – the two extremes of malnutrition are almost equally prevalent in India.(Photo: Rhythum Seth/FIT)

India’s Paradox: An Obese and Undernourished Nation

(National Nutrition Week is observed in India from September 1-7 to increase awareness generation on the importance of nutrition for health which has an impact on development, productivity and economic growth of the country. FIT is republishing this story from its archives.)

People have always sniggered at the United States saying, “oh Americans eat junk, they’re all so fat.” Well guess what, India now has more obese children than the US (or any country except China).

The situation becomes disturbing when you juxtapose these numbers with the problem of undernutrition in India. The two extremes have now become almost equally prevalent.

While the number of undernourished people has gone down by one-third in the last 10 years, India still has more underweight and stunted children that any other country. One reason for India being ahead of all the poorer African nations, is its high population.

The stark nutritional divide shows the unequal growth and development across the country. Statistics from India paint a bleak picture:

India’s double burden of malnutrition – obesity and undernutrition.
India’s double burden of malnutrition – obesity and undernutrition.
(Photo: Harsh Sahani/FIT)

This double-burden of providing healthy and balanced nutrition to people is also seen in other middle-income developing countries. Mexico grapples with widespread undernourishment even as a large section of people are increasingly becoming obese and unhealthy.

The number of overweight people in India has almost doubled in the past decade. And a Lancet report supports that. The study looked at BMI (body mass index) trends in 200 countries from 1975-2016. It found that worldwide the number of obese girls in age group 5-19 has risen from 5 million to 50 million in 40 years, and boys from 6 million to 74 million.

A look at the district map suggests that most of the high-obesity districts are clustered largely around the two ends of the country: the extreme north and the extreme south. And the undernourished districts are largely located in central India.

At one end of the spectrum are poverty-stricken districts such as Purulia in West Bengal and Malkangiri in Odisha. At the other end of the spectrum are metro cities such as Kolkata, Hyderabad, Delhi and Mumbai.

Apart from poverty, the factors related to undernutrition are poor sanitation, lack of education and the status of women in families.

Obesity is on the rise because of sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet and eating habits that are becoming increasingly common amongst urban youngsters.

Obesity leads to serious health problems and in India, undernutrition, on the other hand, is increasing the risk factor for death in children under the age of 5.

A malnourished population can also have a strong negative impact on the economy.

(Data source: NFHS 4 Data, The Lancet Journal)

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