Indians weigh high on world obesity problem: Report

The general view that obesity is a problem associated with relatively richer Western countries has been turned on its head by a new report which states that middle-income countries, like India, are now at the heart of a “fat explosion”.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a leading independent think tank, found that Indians form a massive chunk of the one in three adults now overweight or obese, adding up to 1.46 billion across the world.

For its report titled “Future Diets”, London-based ODI selected five middle-income countries – India, China, Egypt, Peru and Thailand – as case studies to illustrate dietary trends in the developing world over the past 50 years.

The analysis revealed that between 1980 and 2008, those affected in the developing world by obesity had tripled, from 250 million to 904 million.

The percentage of obese and overweight in India rose from about 9 per cent of the population in 1980 to 11 per cent in 2008.

“India’s consumption of animal products is approaching that of China’s in terms of its contribution to the average plate, but here the increase is almost entirely in milk consumption, with only limited increases for meat,” the report said.
Pulses are to blame!

“Many Indians are vegetarian, avoiding beef or pork for cultural and religious reasons. The consumption of pulses remains relatively high in India, although it has been on the decline.”

Rising incomes and relatively cheaper food were singled out as the prime driver of national diets, with a marked shift from cereals and tubers to meat, fats, sugar, fruit and vegetables.

According to the ODI analysis: “Policies to improve diets have been rather timid, with some significant exceptions such as India’s public distribution system or rationing in wartime UK.

“Politicians are fearful of meddling with diets and alienating farming and food industry interests. It seems that this reflects public opinion, with many stakeholders seeing food choices as matters of personal freedom.”

It stressed that decisive government intervention will become an inevitability in the future, to encourage people to eat healthier.

“Increased weight carries significant health risks for some cancers, diabetes, heart diseases and strokes. Politicians need to be less shy about trying to influence what food ends up on our plates,” said Steve Wiggins, an ODI research fellow and one of the authors of the report.

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