A five-city survey of obesity shows that children in India are not just overweight but have fat deposits where it hurts their health the most: on their belly.
A Diabetes Foundation of India (DFI) study of 12,872 children in five cities — New Delhi, Mumbai, Agra, Jaipur and Allahabad — has found that one in five children had waists that were too wide for their health.
Teens in Mumbai (31.3 per cent) and Delhi (28.8 per cent) were well over twice as unfit as their counterparts in Jaipur (13.7 per cent) and Agra (13.9 per cent).
Large waists are bad news, not just for adults but children, reported the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity this week.
Like adults, children with bellies have more heart disease and type-2 diabetes risk factors, such as low levels of heart-protecting good cholesterol (HDL, or high density lipoprotein), high heart-damaging blood fats called triglycerides, and high insulin resistance, all risk factors for heart disease in early adulthood.
“Even without abdominal fat, Indians are genetically at a 2-1/2 to three times higher risk of developing heart and diabetes risk factors as compared to Caucasians,” said Dr Anoop Misra, director, department of Diabetes & Metabolic Diseases, Fortis Hospitals, who led the DFI study.
“Since little can be done about genes, necessary lifestyle changes must be made to lower risk.”
Compared with children with smaller waists, those with large waists are 27 times more likely to be obese, 3.6 times as likely to have low levels of good cholesterol, 3 times as likely to have high heart damaging blood fats and 3.7 times as likely to have high insulin levels.
The only way to lose belly fat, said Dr Misra, is to lose weight by eating less fast food and exercising more.
“Studies in India have consistently shown that children in schools from families with higher disposable income eat more processed food,” said Misra.
Apart from being low in nutrition and high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, most processed foods have high amounts of artery-clogging trans fat, which extends the shelf life of the product and preserves its flavour.
With increasing nutritional awareness, even companies synonymous with fast food are making their products healthier.
McDonald’s India plans to start listing calories on the wrapping and packages of all its products, while PepsiCo is promoting Quaker Oats and snacks that are trans fat free with low sugar and salt.
“Our efforts include product reformulation to enrich nutrient-density; remove trans-fats and saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium (salt); reduce caloric density of products and offer options for portion size control; and transition from saturated tropical oils to healthier oils such as rice bran,” said Dr George A. Mensah, director, global health policy, corporate research & development, PepsiCo, New York, in an email to HT.
Globally, 1.6 billion adults are overweight, of who 400 million are obese, estimates the World Health Organisation. It predicts that by 2015, 2.3 billion adults will be overweight, of which 700 million will be obese.