The government of India announced in March that it would release an annual “state of nutrition” report to explain in detail about India’s level of stunting, malnutrition and suggest best practices for States to scale up their ability to intervene in nutritional matters.
- India has 26 million children suffering from wasting (a low weight-for-height ratio) which is more than in any other country.
- At the same time, we also have the second highest number of obese children in the world i.e. 15.3 million in China and 14.4 million in India.
- Therefore, the need of the hour is to not only ensure adequate nutrition but also ensure appropriate nutrition. To say it in colloquial terms, we need to move from ‘food security’ to ‘nutrition security’.
Obesity in India
Between 1980 and 2015, obesity figures doubled for children and tripled for adults i.e. if trends are to be believed, an additional 2.6 million children will become obese by 2025 in India.
Obesity puts pressure on our fragile healthcare systems as it poses a high risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and even some cancers. These diseases are clubbed together to be known as ‘non-communicable diseases’. Therefore, like stunting and malnutrition, obesity poses a lifetime of health problems for the overweight children.
What should be our response?
- Agricultural systems should promote crop diversity to enable dietary diversity.
- We should also include regulatory and fiscal measures such as decreasing the availability, affordability and promotion of non-healthy food items while making healthy food more accessible to people.
- We should ban the sale of junk food in and around schools.
- A higher tax on junk food can lead to people with lower incomes to live a healthy life.
- Counselling and care ecosystem needs to be created to make people (especially children) aware about poor lifestyle choices and obesity management, prevention and treatment techniques.
- India should link undernutrition and obesity so as to treat them as twin challenges to be jointly addressed under universal health coverage umbrella. NCDs such as heart disease and diabetes impose high burden on the livelihoods of poor people through catastrophic health expenditure, therefore, universal healthcare in this field is necessary.
Tackling the menace of obesity benefits the entire economy and environment because healthy lifestyle increases productivity levels of the population and save lives and money in the whole process.