A survey conducted in Anganwadi centers across the country last month has found obesity in more than 43 lakh children in the 0-5 age group.
According to official figures, this is about six percent of the total children surveyed.
Data collected from government-run rural child care centers also showed that the percentage of obese or overweight children was almost the same as that of severely and moderately malnourished children found in anganwadis, at six per cent.
Data collected from the growth monitoring app ‘Nutrition Tracker’ shows that out of 7,24,56,458 children measured in the 0-5 years age group, about six per cent or 43,47,387 children were classified as obese or overweight.
Thirteen states and union territories, including Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, have obesity rates higher than the national average of six per cent, the data showed.
This increase in childhood obesity in recent years is considered worrying. According to data from NHFS-4 (2015-16) and NFHS-5 (2019-2021), the percentage of children under five years of age who are overweight has increased in NFHS-5 compared to NFHS-4.
Before the ‘Nutrition Tracker’ launched in 2021, data was collected under the National Family Health Survey (NFHS). In NFHS-5, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir recorded the highest percentage of overweight children under five years of age, followed by Sikkim and Tripura.
On the other hand, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh have the lowest percentage of overweight children under five years of age.
According to the survey data, every state except Tamil Nadu and Goa has seen an increase in the percentage of overweight children under five in NFHS-5 compared to NFHS-4.
A recent global study published by the World Obesity Federation has revealed that childhood obesity is a serious concern worldwide.
The study warns that if not addressed immediately, India could see an annual increase of 9.1 percent in childhood obesity by 2035.
The study suggests that the risk of obesity for boys in India may increase from three percent in 2020 to 12 percent in the next 12 years.
For girls, the figure which was two percent in 2020 may increase to seven percent. It is also estimated that about 11 percent of the Indian population will be obese by 2035, with the annual increase in adult obesity estimated to be about 5.2 percent between 2020 and 2035.
Puja Marwaha, CEO of child rights organization CRY, identified several reasons for the rise in childhood obesity in India and these included unhealthy dietary changes, increased consumption of packaged foods and increased calorie restriction due to unbalanced lifestyle.
They also highlighted the changes in dietary patterns of children, especially in urban and semi-urban environments.
Marwaha said the purchase of market-sold snacks is increasingly being influenced by children’s preferences, leading them to consume fast food and sugary beverages, thereby accumulating empty calories.
She emphasized that many low-income families have become unable to afford the cost of nutritious vegetables, fruits and protein sources.
When asked about how to tackle obesity, Marwaha said that like other behavioral issues among children, addressing childhood obesity must start with proper parenting. He said it is important to increase awareness among parents about a balanced diet.
Marwaha said that in urban areas, children often eat less and less fresh vegetables and fruits and working parents think that when they are not at home, children can indulge in some junk food. This trend is not limited to urban areas only, he said, but even in rural areas, where both parents work as daily wage earners, children sometimes have potato chips for lunch. Buy cheap packets and give them away.
According to news agency PTI, Dr. Jyoti Kapoor, founder and director of Manasthali, said that obese children have an increased risk of developing various health problems including type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and sleep apnea.
These conditions can have both immediate and long-term consequences on a child’s quality of life.
Dr. Kapoor said childhood obesity often persists into adulthood, increasing the risk of chronic health conditions and early mortality.