In another five years, the number of obese children across the world will outnumber the number of malnourished ones.
A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Imperial College London, published in medical journal The Lancet, stated on Wednesday that obesity rates among the world’s children and adolescents increased from less than 1% in 1975 to nearly 6% in girls and nearly 8% in boys in 2016. India, however, features as the only undernourished zone in this childhood obesity map.
India in 2016 was still home to about 97 million of the world’s underweight children and adolescents. “India had the highest prevalence of moderately and severely underweight under-19s throughout these four decades (24.4% of girls and 39.3% of boys were moderately or severely underweight in 1975, and 22.7% and 30.7% in 2016),’’ said the report.
Experts, however, said that India’s malnourished status hides the unhealthy fact that obesity levels are galloping in many metros and cities. Dr V Mohan, one of the secondary authors of the Lancet study, said, “Compared to 1975, there is no denying that obesity among children has increased across the world. In India, too, BMI (body mass index) of children has increased, but not to the levels it has in some other countries, say, in the Americas and East Asia.”
The study, which looked at BMI as a marker of obesity, said BMI among India’s boys increased from 15.03 to 16.97 in 2016 while it increased from 15.74 to 16.94 among girls. A senior doctor said these obesity levels are not as worrisome as in some western countries.
But Delhi-based endocrinologist Dr Anoop Misra said the overall India BMI doesn’t give the entire picture. “In states such as Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, undernutrition is still a big issue.”
Dr Misra’s previous studies have shown that 30% of urban India’s children are either overweight or obese. “This number will grow as the junk food culture seems to dominate,” he added.
Dr Misra said while obesity levels were lower among children in rural India, many of them who migrate to urban areas tend to become obese more quickly than others. “There is a change in the diet with mothers feeding them more chapatis or carbohydrates instead of protein sources such as milk and eggs.”
Obesity has emerged as one of the biggest public health issues in the world because it increases the risk of diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer, among others.
Imperial’s School of Public Health professor Majid Ezzati, who is the main author of the Lancet study, said, “Over the past four decades, obesity rates in children and adolescents have soared globally, and continue to do so in low- and middle-income countries. More recently, they have plateaued in higher income countries, though they still remain unacceptably high.”
The study concluded said that if post-2000 trends continued, global levels of child and adolescent obesity would surpass those for moderately and severely underweight for the same age group by 2022.