The causes of obesity in India are aplenty. Obesity is emerging as a silent pandemic in India. Obesity leads to hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol levels in the body and impaired glucose tolerance.
According to a National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of 2016, 20.7% of Indian women and 18.6% of Indian men in the age group of 15 to 49 are overweight. The survey also predicts that obesity will be the largest health challenge for Indians in the coming years. The reason behind the alarming rate of overweight people in India as per the survey is largely due to certain socio-cultural factors.
The ill-effects of obesity are well-known. From cardiovascular diseases to hypertension, overweight individuals are prone to several lifestyle disorders.
Reasons for obesity in India
The reasons for obesity differ among different communities and their habitats. The most common reasons behind obesity among urban populations and small cities and towns are:
- Change in food habits
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Lack of sleep
- Misconception in parenting
Drastic change in food habits
One of the prime causes of obesity in India is the changing adherence towards unhealthy nutrition. In the last decade, people of all age groups have shown an inclination towards fatty food and processed food. Various causes have led to the shift in food habits. A few of them include:
- Easy availability of processed and junk food
- The less time taken to cook the food
- The low-cost of the energy dense food
- Numerous television advertisements promoting the fatty and processed food
- The brand building strategy of the big business houses that target young consumers
- Addiction to these foods because they please the taste buds
Obesity in the body does not develop overnight. It progresses over years of bad food habits. Wrong eating habits in the childhood result in overweight adults. The right balance of nutrition goes a long way in maintaining a healthy BMI (body mass index) that is measured to evaluate obesity.
The lack of healthy food habits and portion control in adults are also responsible for obesity in India. Counting the calories consumed and balancing it the right way also reduces chances of being overweight or obese.
Table 1: A list of high calorie food most loved in India and their calorie count
|White rice (half cup)||300|
|Ghee (1 tablespoon)||135|
|Coconut milk (100 grams)||230|
|One single Nan or any other Indian bread made out of white flour||300|
|Chhole Bhature (one serving)||450|
|Potato chips (one ounce)||150|
|Gulab jamun (2 pieces)||400|
Sedentary lifestyle and reduced physical activity
Reduced physical activity and changes in lifestyle and jobs that demand many hours of immobility are among the causes of obesity in adults. To maintain a healthy BMI it is necessary to burn more calories than you consume in a day. To meet this demand, more than an hour or two high-intensity physical activity is required depending on your body.
With the usage of appliances, a large percentage of the population is dependent on technology for everything including daily chores. From escalators that make us avoid the stairs to washing machines and dishwashers, all of our everyday needs are taken care of by technology. In urban spaces, people are averse to walking even a few meters to run basic errands. They are dependent on vehicles.
This general hostility towards physical activity coupled with apathy and lethargy is among the reasons for the growing number of obese people in India.
Lack of sleep
The overall lack of sleep among populations, the habit of staying awake until wee hours of the night can also cause obesity in both adults and children. A good seven to eight hours of sleep at the right time is essential to regulate metabolism in your body.
When there is a disruption in metabolism, it causes irregular synthesis of hormones that can lead to certain conditions that eventually result in weight gain. This is especially true for women. Irregular metabolism in women can lead to irregular menstruation and imbalance in the synthesis of reproductive hormones and thyroid hormones. Eventually, these conditions lead to excessive weight gain rapidly, that may become tough to shed-off.
In both men and women, irregular sleep habits may cause increased appetite that stays the same even after a heavy meal. Irregular metabolism is more than detrimental to the body and it can be regulated only with good sleep habits. Early to bed and early to rise is essential for physical and mental well-being.
Wrong parental approach
There is a misconception in India even among educated parents that an overweight child is a healthy child. In countries like India, the margin between healthy and overweight is almost invisible. This is especially true for young parents. They have no clue on what constitutes to healthy and what is obese.
In many families, in order to maintain the ‘healthy outlook of the child,’ parents feed the kids excessively. When kids are fed more than the necessary quantity, they adapt to high quantities over a period of time. When less physical activity is coupled in such a scenario, it leads to obesity in adolescents and pre-adolescents.
Another misconception among Indian parents is limiting the time of physical activity, especially for slim kids. When a kid is slim, most parents mistake it for weakness and limit play and other forms of physical activity for the child. Over time a sedentary child holds on to the thought and avoids physical activity even into his adulthood.
Misconception in parents and general lack of awareness even in urban parents are among the reasons why more number of Indians are obese.
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Lifestyle related stress
The drastic change in lifestyle coupled with the workload and less time to indulge in outdoor activities can lead to stress. In India, it is not just the adults who are stressed. Anxiety in school going children is a form of stress too.
In Indian society the causes for stress are plenty. They include:
- The needs and demands that increase with every passing day
- The burden of responsibilities to be fulfilled for adults
- Complete lack of physical activity
When the body goes into a stressful mode, it releases the hormone called cortisol that is also known as the stress hormone. Increased secretion of cortisol results in increased appetite and in such situations, a person favors high-calorie food for comfort. (Refer Table: 1) Stress does as much harm to the metabolism as sleeplessness. The ill-effects of stress are visible in increased waistline and waist-hip ratio.
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Tips to combat obesity
- Fight against obesity can be done with the following ways:
- Inculcating the need for right nutrition at a very young age
- Awareness campaigns on healthy eating
- Behavioral modifications
- Adding physical activity in any form to your day
The above-mentioned causes are the prime reasons for an alarming increase in the number of obese people in India. Genetics also plays a role in obesity in a small percentage of the population. The causes are reversible. By increasing awareness among the public, obesity can gradually be eradicated.
How is obesity determined?
If your Body Mass Index (BMI) is above 30, you are obese.
How is a person termed as overweight?
If the Body Mass Index (BMI) of a person is above 25 and less than 29.9, he is overweight.
How does obesity in childhood affect adulthood?
Obese children are likely to grow into obese adults with increased risk of diseases like insulin resistance, cardiovascular diseases, some cancers and disability.
Do obese people have limited lifespan?
The increased risk to several diseases put obese people at a risk of early death.
Is obesity genetic?
Obesity may be caused due to hereditary factors, but not always.