News / Asia

Obesity Silent Killer in India

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A new study released by the Registrar General of India indicates that obesity-related diseases have joined malnutrition as leading causes of death.

As India's economy grows, so does the temptation for many people to eat more and do less. Tired and home late? Fatty food is just a phone call away.

Overweight, but eager to get married? Now there's overweightshadi.com, an Indian dating site exclusively for obese people.

In a country where the Global Hunger Index shows that nearly half of all children are malnourished, many of India's well-off citizens are now seeking treatment for obesity.

New Delhi-based business professional Aradhna Tripathi admits she loves to eat. "Eating is the most important thing in any Indian household and how you show your love and gratitude for a person is through the kind of food you serve him," she said. "Indian people are used to eating the kinds of foods cooked at home that are filled with masala and oil. With the kind of sedentary lifestyle we lead, these are the reasons we have obesity increasing. "

India's current National Family Health Survey indicates that more than 20 percent of urban Indians are overweight or obese. And in the northwestern state of Punjab, nearly 40 percent of all women are overweight or obese.

Tripathi says she was inspired to lose weight after contracting gestational diabetes during her recent pregnancy.  Her mother and grandmother are both diabetic.

More and more Indians are signing up for weight loss programs out of fear of disease, says Vandana Luthra, managing director of VLCC, a global slimming agency based in India.  "Earlier it was more of a luxury going to a spa or wellness center, but today it has become a necessity," she said.

New data released by the International Diabetes Federation shows every sixth diabetic in the world is an Indian - earning India the title "the world's diabetes capital." Research over the past decade shows that genetically, Indians store more body fat per kilogram than Europeans. Leading health professionals agree, obesity puts Indians at an even greater risk of getting diabetes.

This risk is now crossing socioeconomic lines, says Dr. Anoop Misra director of diabetes and metabolic disease at New Delhi's Fortis Hospital.  

He says five years ago obesity and diabetes were limited to India's most affluent. But, now poor Indians also are getting fatter. "We thought we'd find all malnutrition, but what we found was the paradox. Many people were thin and undernourished. The other side was many were fat and some of these belonged to the poorest section of this slum. This was a clear contrast, a paradox occurring in the same community. Half people overnourished, half undernourished," he said. He blames the rise in obesity on inexpensive and oily snacks popular in Indian slums, and a lack of preventative education.  

China is not too far behind India. The World Health Organization says China's obesity rates hover at 5 percent, and almost 20 percent in select cities.  But Dr. Misra says China is better equipped to contain the epidemic because it can employ uniform prevention efforts in schools. India has a more heterogeneous mix of government and private schools.  

Despite that, Dr. Misra says he is optimistic that India's obesity epidemic can be curbed. "It is the schools that we have to concentrate upon, it is the children that we have to concentrate upon. And if it a uniform physical activity and discipline dietary instructions are given right to the children I'm sure that it can be curbed," he stated.

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