India sitting on obesity curve: Lancet study

GS Paper II

News Excerpt:

The new study reveals that 44 million women and 26 million men aged above 20 in India are obese, this figure was just 2.4 million women and 1.1 million men in 1990.

Key Findings of the study:

  • The Lancet found that 12.5 million children (7.3 million boys and 5.2 million girls) in the country, aged between 5 and 19, were grossly overweight in 2022, up from 0.4 million in 1990.
  • India ranks 182 among 197 countries for the prevalence of obesity in women and 180 for men in 2022. The country ranked 174 in the world for both girls and boys.
  • The report showed more than 3% prevalence among children and teens, an increase of over 3% points from 1990.
  • Obesity is also a concern among adults, with female obesity prevalence increasing sharply, women had a 9.8% prevalence, an increase of 8.6 percentage points from 1990. 
    • For men, this number stood at 5.4%, an increase of 4.9 percentage points.


  • Obesity, as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is an abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that poses health risks. 
    • A body mass index (BMI) over 25 is considered overweight and over 30 is obese.
      • Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women.

Relevance of the study for India:

  • These findings are significant at a time when India already has a high burden of non-communicable diseases like heart disease, strokes, and diabetes topping them. 
  • Obesity is a major risk factor and a trigger for the early onset of the above-mentioned diseases, even Type 2 diabetes among teens.
  • This study can be used as a guide to take necessary remedial actions for curbing the problem of widespread obesity on time.

Major causes of Obesity:

  • The primary driver is a shift in dietary choices away from traditional foods and physical inactivity.
    • We have shifted away from whole foods such as pulses, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. 
    • Traditional food was low on animal products, salt, refined oils, sugars and flours, thus it helped in maintaining a healthy weight. 
    • We have now moved towards a diet that is high in energy but low in nutrients like refined carbohydrates, high fat, meat products, and processed foods. 
  • Eating behaviour that causes obesity is as follows:
    • Snacking, patterns of restrained eating, dieting, binge eating and dining out. 
    • These behaviours disrupt a healthy dieting routine. 
  • Consumption of added sugars plays a significant role in driving obesity, particularly when ingested through beverages like sodas, sweetened coffee, tea and juices.
  • The National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau diet and nutrition surveys in rural areas carried out in different periods have shown that the sedentary activity (Low physical activity lifestyle) had significantly increased from 34 per cent in 1975-79 to 74 per cent by 2012. 
  • The Lancet Food Commission, NFHS surveys and national comprehensive nutrition surveys among others have shown that dietary diversification is very poor among children. 

Problems of Malnutrition and being Underweight: 

  • The study also flags severe undernutrition in the country among all age groups. 
  • India ranks the highest in the world for underweight girls and the second highest for boys. 
  • In India, about 35 million girls and 42 million boys between five and 19 years old were underweight in 2022, compared to 39 million girls and 70 million boys in 1990. 
  • Among adults too, 61 million women and 58 million men were underweight in 2022, a drop from 41.7 per cent in 1990 to 13.7 per cent for women and 39.8 per cent to 12.5 per cent for men.
  • Obesity and being underweight are both forms of malnutrition, so India has a big challenge in tackling both kinds of malnutrition, that of the under-fed and the overfed. 
  • Maternal malnutrition is the key reason behind the problem of being underweight, more than half of pregnant women suffer from micronutrient deficiencies like those of iron and vitamin B12. 

Why is obesity in women rising faster?

  • Experts attribute obesity problems in women to cultural, socio-economic and biological factors. 
  • Women in more traditional settings may face the following circumstances:
    • More barriers to accessing physical activity like a gym or open ground activities.
    • Limited access to healthy food options.
    • Prioritising the nutritional needs of other family members over their own. 
  • They have limited access to healthcare and education about obesity, its health implications and healthy lifestyle choices. 
  • It is necessary to educate women at a community level on the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and practising a healthy lifestyle.
  • Biological factors, including pregnancy and menopause, uniquely affect women’s weight.

Ways to tackle obesity and Malnutrition:

  • To successfully tackle both forms of malnutrition, it is vital we significantly improve the availability and affordability of healthy, nutritious foods.
  • Experts say obesity trends can be reversed with the following targeted interventions: - 
    • Addressing obesity in adolescents requires a multi-faceted approach that involves government policy, community initiatives and individual actions. 
      • At least 60 minutes of physical activity per day is recommended to be fit and healthy. 
      • The sale of unhealthy foods and beverages to children should be regulated.
      • Restrictions should be put on junk food advertisements targeted at children.
      • Clear nutritional labelling and promoting healthier options at school cafeterias are some of the ways to tackle obesity. 
  • Parents should also involve their children in their daily household work, and make sure that children eat healthy food and regularly go for a health screening.
  • The school and college curriculum should include chapters on nutrition, healthy eating habits, and healthy food consumption
  • Physical activities like sports and games should be promoted to raise awareness among children.


The Lancet study highlights the alarming rise of obesity in India, particularly among women and children. It underscores the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to address this growing epidemic, including promoting healthy diets, physical activity, and education. Tackling obesity alongside undernutrition is crucial for India's public health and overall economic growth.


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