Obesity today, is not just a western disease anymore. With a third of obese population of the world, India is not lagging behind. A fifth of our adults, and rather alarmingly 5% of our young people (<20 years old) are now either overweight or obese. The statistics are much better when compared to some western countries where nearly 70% of the population is either overweight or obese. However, with a third of the population in some urban areas now affected, we can’t really afford to be complacent in India when it comes to this modern epidemic. The cost of managing obesity and its consequences is something that even rich countries are struggling with. We, in India simply do not have the resources to deal with it.
Traditionally, women in India have suffered huge gender, social, and economic inequality. One would hence expect Indian women to be spared by this disease of “abundance”, which is largely confined to the richer socio-economic classes. However that has proved not to be the case. As opposed to the West where a slightly higher proportion of men are overweight or obese compared to women, in India more women than men are affected (20.7% versus 19.5%). Even amongst those seeking intervention for obesity, the percentage of women is rather high. Generally, women account for 75-80% of the patients in any large bariatric surgery unit. This could be due to higher consciousness rather than higher awareness.
Childhood obesity is becoming a particular problem in India. Approximately 5% of our children are overweight or obese and the number is alarmingly high at 15-20% in many urban populations. Since what children are fed is directly dependent on the awareness amongst our women about these issues, anti-obesity efforts directed at women are likely to be more fruitful. Prevention and management of obesity in general, and that of childhood obesity in particular, require interventions on a war footing. We need large-scale public education drives about healthy eating and benefits of physical activity. Time to act is now!