The unhealthy modern Indian

Indians are eating more fats in their diets.
Indians are eating more fats in their diets.
Image: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri
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Globalisation has led to some pretty big changes in India. But perhaps the most critical is the change to the Indian diet. While undernutrition remains a problem across the country, there is a growing obesity crisis, thanks to the influx of fast foods and packaged foods that have changed the way the nation eats.

According to data from the National Family Health Survey, the percentage of overweight or obese women in India increased to 14.8% in 2005-06 from 10.6% in 1998-99.

Indians get most of their energy intake from carbohydrates, particularly cereals, when compared to other ethnic groups. However, the intake of cereals has declined in both rural and urban areas over the past two decades, with people shifting consumption towards foods that are energy-dense (i.e. with more calories per gram). In urban areas particularly, there has been a rise in consumption of biscuits, salted snacks, prepared sweets, edible oils and sugar.

On top of this, the per-capita consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages increased to more than 11 litres in 2013, up from 1.6 litres in 1998. This is because sugar-sweetened drinks are now easily available in rural and urban areas, with dhabas selling them on all roadsides, particularly on highways. Sugar consumption itself is also rising, with Indians consuming even more amounts of white sugar, jaggery, honey and khandsari.

To make matters worse, Indians are also eating more fats in their diets. In 2005, urban India’s consumption of fats rose to 47.5 grams per day from 36 grams per day in 1973, while rural India’s fat intake rose to 35.5 grams per day from 24 grams per day. The recommended level of fat intake for a 1,400-kilocalorie diet is between 23 and 46 grams.

This increasing consumption of fat is being combined with the decreasing level of physical activity—and that’s making the obesity problem even worse.

With Indians combining traditional foods like paranthas, bhaturas and samosas with western fast foods, their overall calorie intake is increasing. And studies show that Indians have a lower daily intake of fruits and vegetables than people from 47 non-South Asian countries.

In short, over the past decade Indians have become more affluent, more urbanised and more mechanised. But the hectic lifestyles and easy availability of convenience foods have led to irregular meals and frequent snacking on energy-dense fast foods instead of home-cooked food. And these diet changes are putting the country at higher risk for deadly diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, not just in urban areas, but in rural ones too.

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