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India Bucks Global Child Obesity Trend, But Don't Celebrate Just Yet

Representative image (Reuters)

Representative image (Reuters)

A global study by WHO and the Imperial College, London, says 97 million of the world’s moderately or severely underweight children in 2016 lived in India.

New Delhi: The world had 10 times as many obese children and teenagers last year than in 1975, but India bucked this trend. The statistic, however, is no cause for celebration as the country has the most underweight children.

According to a study by The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Imperial College, London, the number of obese children in the world rose from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016.

The study, published in The Lancet, pointed out that 97 million of the world’s moderately or severely underweight children in 2016 lived in India. The study also said that 13 million children in India were overweight in 2016, but were below the obesity line.

The WHO separately noted that an estimated 42 million children worldwide, under the age of five, were also obese.

In 1975, the obesity rate, globally was one percent. By 2016, it increased to nearly 6 percent in girls (50 million) and 8 percent in boys (74 million).

Pooling data from 2,416 population-based measurement studies, researchers looked at 130 million people, including 31.5 million children between the ages of 5 and 19, to compare the trajectory of obesity and underweight between children and adults.

Polynesia and Micronesia had the highest rates of child obesity last year, 25.4 percent in girls and 22.4 percent in boys, followed by "the high-income English-speaking region" that includes the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Britain.

Among high-income countries, the United States had "the highest obesity rates for girls and boys", 19.5 percent and 23.3 percent, respectively.

The study found that the rise in the Body Mass Index (BMI) — a method of determining whether a person is underweight, overweight or obese —started plateauing in high income countries, but accelerated in low to middle income countries, especially in Asia.

India’s obesity rate is between 1 to 2 percent, leaving the country with the double burden of existing under-nutrition and rising numbers of overweight and obese children.

The study lists early onset of Type 2 diabetes, other non-communicable diseases and “adverse psychosocial consequences and lower educational attainment” as the dangers of being overweight or obese in adolescence.

“Children's choices, diet and physical activity habits are influenced by their surroundings and rapid social and economic development has changed the environment many children are now growing up in. Diet and physical activity patterns have changed dramatically, shifting to processed, unhealthy foods and drinks and sedentary lifestyles,” WHO noted.

Crucially, children are “particularly vulnerable to marketing and the price of foods and drink” and there is “clear evidence that the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children is related to childhood obesity”.

The study said that as per current trends, more children and adolescents will be obese than moderately or severely underweight by 2022. Hence, the WHO also announced an implementation plan to end childhood obesity. It called on governments to draft responsible policies in education, food and agriculture, environmental and urban planning, commerce and industry, etc.