Health Talk | Obesity is the most dangerous form of malnutrition now. Here's what you can do - Hindustan Times
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Health Talk | Obesity is the most dangerous form of malnutrition now. Here's what you can do

Mar 16, 2024 03:48 PM IST

Abdominal obesity, particularly among women in their 30s and 40s, is a growing concern. Nutritious food is the most important gift you can give yourself

At least one billion people in the world are now living with obesity, according to findings of a study published in The Lancet last week, adding obesity rates among children and adolescents worldwide increased four times from 1990 to 2022, while obesity rates among adults have more than doubled.

Obesity rates in the country have also seen a rise in the past three decades with obesity in girls and boys aged 5-19 years increasing from 0.1% in 1990 to 3.1% in 2022 and from 0.2% in 1990 to 3.9% in 2022 respectively (Getty Images/iStockphoto) PREMIUM
Obesity rates in the country have also seen a rise in the past three decades with obesity in girls and boys aged 5-19 years increasing from 0.1% in 1990 to 3.1% in 2022 and from 0.2% in 1990 to 3.9% in 2022 respectively (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The Indian scenario is no different. According to the paper, obesity rates in the country have also seen a rise in the past three decades with obesity in girls and boys aged 5-19 years increasing from 0.1% in 1990 to 3.1% in 2022 and from 0.2% in 1990 to 3.9% in 2022 respectively, making obesity a growing public health concern. On the other hand, underweight has seen a decline in the corresponding period.

Thinness in boys in India has seen a decline of 23.5 percentage points and in girls, there has been a decline of seven percentage points. These trends, together with the declining prevalence of people who are underweight since 1990, make obesity the most common form of malnutrition in most countries. Senior author of the study, Majid Ezzati, of Imperial College London, said, in a statement, “It is very concerning that the epidemic of obesity that was evident among adults in much of the world in 1990 is now mirrored in school-aged children and adolescents...”

For India, abdominal obesity or visceral fat— found deep within one’s abdominal cavity that can adversely impact important organs such as the liver, stomach, and intestines — is a bigger concern. An earlier Lancet study found the prevalence of abdominal obesity in the country to be 40% in women and 12% in men. The findings showed that 5–6 out of 10 women between the ages of 30–49 were abdominally obese. The association of abdominal obesity in women was stronger with older age groups, urban residents, wealthier sections, and non-vegetarians.

The researchers in the paper— Abdominal Obesity in India: Analysis of the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019–2021) data — published last year highlighted the need for the government and other stakeholders to proactively design targeted interventions for abdominal obesity, especially for women in their thirties and forties in India.

One of the reasons for obesity turning into an epidemic is changing food habits wherein people are switching to ultra-processed food items. Ultra-processed foods, including packaged baked goods and snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, and ready-to-eat or heat products, undergo multiple industrial processes and often contain colours, emulsifiers, flavours, and other additives. These products also tend to be high in added sugar, fat, and salt, but low in vitamins and fibre.

“The items available in the market gradually underwent changes for the worse such as the introduction of refined oil, and margarine, which is very bad for health. People choosing to opt for unscientific fad diets also didn’t help in tackling the obesity problem,” said Ishi Khosla, senior nutritionist.

A recent BMJ study linked consumption of such foods with an increased risk of 32 damaging health outcomes including certain cancers, major heart and lung conditions, mental health disorders, and early death.

The solution for successfully tackling the problem of malnutrition is to significantly improve the availability and affordability of healthy, nutritious foods, said experts.

"To tackle the issue, intervention needs to be made both at the individual level and population level. We cannot not give credit to the current government for taking several steps in the right direction such as promoting millets, which are actually superfoods and highly beneficial. The results may not show overnight as it is a gradual process but if we continue on this path then it will benefit eventually," said Khosla.

Dietician and diabetes educator, Neha Arora adds, “The most effective way to control obesity would be to have a more active lifestyle and healthy eating. I would highly recommend working on these five “S”: limit sugars; limit salt/sodium intake; get sound sleep; limit screen time; managing stress through exercise/yoga. In addition, reduce packaged, processed foods.”

Rhythma Kaul, national deputy editor, health, analyses the impact of the most significant piece of news this week in the health sector

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Rhythma Kaul works as an assistant editor at Hindustan Times. She covers health and related topics, including ministry of health and family welfare, government of India.

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