India’s Fitness Future: What To Expect In Twenty Years

Posted on May 11, 2012 in Health and Life

By Waled Aadnan:

The year is 2032. Antilla is an old dwarf of a skyscraper home lining Mumbai’s skyline. India has just become the world’s second largest economy. At every traffic stop, swanky multi-million cars made in Indian multinational companies grunt for attention. Young politician Rahul Gandhi is in town to address yet another Youth Congress meeting after which he is expected to spend the night at a Dalit’s home. And well, yes, we have managed to eradicate poverty by defining the poverty line at Rs. 0.01 per day per capita. India of the future sure seems a happy place to live in.

But that is as long as we take a myopic view of the situation and ignore health hazards facing the country’s population at two ends of the economic spectrum. At the poorer end, it is only a very optimistic perspective that will predict eradication of chronic malnutrition and provision of basic amenities like clean water, sanitation and affordable healthcare to all. On the other hand, India is expected to become the diabetes capital of the world as today’s burgeoning young population enters its middle age. By 2015, 56% of our population will be below 29 years of age, which means that in another two decades, we are likely to see a large proportion of the population in their thirties and forties.

Fitness is an issue in the medium to long term for the simple reason that for every 10 extra kilograms above the stipulated body weight (measured according to height), life expectancy of a person reduces by three years. Presently, health statistics do not paint a rosy picture of India’s fitness. The current number of diabetics in the country is nearly 41 million and is expected to rise by 170 per cent in the next 20 years. The Health Ministry’s consensus guidelines for Prevention and Management of Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome states that every second person in Delhi fulfils the criteria of obesity or has excess abdominal fat and nearly one-fourth of the adolescent population in the capital has Syndrome X or metabolic syndrome, that heralds the onset of heart diseases and diabetes. The study says one in every three Indians has high triglyceride (bad cholesterol) levels and 30-70 per cent has low levels of HDL (good cholesterol). One in every three Indians has high blood pressure, which is expected to shoot by 60 per cent in the next 20 years.

In 2008, the country’s diagnostic cut-offs for body mass index (BMI) was cut to 23 kg/m2 as opposed to 25 kg/m2 globally. For those unfamiliar with the jargon, BMI is considered the individual’s fitness and obesity indicator. It is the ratio of the body weight in kg to height in m2. At the same time, cut-offs for waist circumstances are lower at 90 cm for Indian men (as opposed to 102 cm globally) and 80 cm for Indian women (as opposed to 88 cm at the international level). The reasons for these stricter benchmarks to quantify and tackle the problem of obesity in India are scientific and simple. Indian bodies and genetics are such that Indians suffer more from abdominal obesity compared to people in the West whose bodies grow uniformly obese.

Over the next two decades, affluence is only going to grow in India as the benefits of sustained growth reach out to more and more people. Accompanying this structural change will be a lifestyle change towards high consumer spending on processed food, eating out, leisure, and health and fitness sectors. Although it is tempting to enjoy the fruits of prosperity, the future costs often prove to be higher and seen in the context of physical well-being, unquantifiable. As of today, the Health Ministry has its hands full. Between trying to reduce malnutrition among the majority of the population and tackling obesity among the urbanites, a coherent policy is missing that will educate and propagate information regarding the magnitude of the problem of obesity. That remains the need of the hour to trim those potential paunches.