Nutrition: junk food is consuming us

Nutrition: junk food is consuming us

The National Institute for Nutrition’s Urban Nutrition Report provides worrying but useful insights into what is making urban Indians unhealthy. Drawing on a survey involving almost 1.72 lakh subjects from 52,577 households across 16 states in the country, the report highlights the role of unhealthy lifestyles and food and drinking habits in triggering illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, etc. Long hours at work, eating junk food and drinking carbonated beverages, along with lack of exercise, are making urban Indians obese and unhealthy, the report says. Consumption of high fat, high salt and high sugar diets, which is common among our urban populations, is significantly linked to hypertension and diabetes. The survey reveals that Kerala and Puducherry lead the country with regard to prevalence of hypertension (31-39%) and diabetes (42%), respectively. Some 60% of women and 42% of men in Puducherry are overweight. Karnataka has a lot to worry about, too. Total cholesterol and triglyceride levels among men and women in urban Karnataka are high; the state tops the country with regard to triglyceride levels. Added to this is widespread smoking and consumption of alcohol in the state, making urban Karnataka highly vulnerable to multiple health risks. Worryingly, 97% of urban mothers in Karnataka start complementary feeding of babies before they are six months old, leaving babies vulnerable to diarrhoea and consequent weight loss.

The study makes important links between nutrition indicators among children and socio-economic variables. Child nutrition standards are lower in households with low per capita income, illiterate fathers and no access to sanitation facilities. It is lower, too, among Dalits and Adivasis than in other communities. Children from poor families and marginalised communities are often underweight and stunted because they lack access to nutritious food.

Meanwhile, rushed lifestyles are undermining the health of rich and middle class urban Indians. Many prefer eating pasta or pizza to a wholesome meal. They have little time to cook or even eat, and even less for exercise. Life on the fast lane is proving costly and, increasingly, young adults are grappling with obesity and hypertension, which were once problems that did not appear before middle age. Indeed, even children are struggling with obesity, thanks to junk food and sedentary lifestyles. And then there are those who are into fad-diets to lose weight. In their bid to become thin, they skip meals and starve themselves. They are vulnerable to an array of problems like chronic fatigue, irregular menstrual cycles, osteoporosis and decreased attention span. India must take the nutrition report’s warnings seriously. The food we eat should be building our resistance to disease, making us energetic and extending longevity. Instead, we are consuming junk, and junk is consuming us.

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