Experts say obesity rates growing with low levels of activity and high urbanisation

This city has a large burden to bear, quite literally. In a recently-concluded survey across 11 cities in India on obesity-related trends, Chennai has come off heaving heavy. Nearly 38 per cent of the population in the city weighs above the ideal body weight. The AC Nielsen survey, commissioned by pharma company Johnson and Johnson, found that Chennai is top among the cities surveyed with the largest number of obese/overweight people. Tamil Nadu comes fourth in the list of states, after Punjab, Goa and Rajasthan, according to Rajkumar Palanippan, consultant gastro and obesity surgeon, Apollo Hospitals, who was involved in the study.

BMI used

The survey, which covered 2,616 individuals, adopted the Body Mass Index (BMI) classifications to define weight.

A healthy BMI is 18.5 to 22.9; the overweight category is covered between 23 to 27.4 BMI; obese between 27.5 to 37.5 BMI; and morbidly obese, over 37.5 BMI. From the study, it is learnt that 23 per cent of the total number of people in the overweight category, 12 per cent in the obese category, and 3 per cent morbidly obese are in Chennai.

“What worries me even more than the numbers of obese, are two factors. The first is the high incidence of co-morbid conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, infertility and polycystic ovarian disease among these people,” Dr. Palaniappan says. Secondly, about 43 per cent have done nothing about their weight, and 33 per cent of them do not even intend to do anything about it in future, he adds.

In Chennai, about 51 per cent of all people above their ideal body weight suffer from at least one co-morbid condition associated with obesity. But worse, 33 per cent have not consulted a doctor for any co-existing condition or illness. “This does not mean they do not have conditions, it just means they have not tested themselves,” Dr. Palaniappan adds.

Nick Finer, consultant endocrinologist and bariatric physician at the University College London Hospitals, was in the country last month to conduct a training programme on behalf of the International Association for the Study of Obesity.

Speaking to The Hindu, he said people are getting fatter in India: overweight and obesity rates are growing, with diminishing levels of activity and high urbanisation.

Diabetes, a threat

People are particularly susceptible to diabetes when they gain weight. A BMI of over 23 is already going to put Indians at risk for diabetes, he said.

“It is important to tackle weight-loss correctly and aggressively. The ideal thing is to not put on weight. This awareness should be introduced right at the school level,” says P. Praveen Raj, consultant, department of obesity and diabetes surgery, Gem Hospital and Research Centre, Coimbatore.

While diet, exercise and behaviour modification can work for overweight and obese individuals, these do not work for morbidly obese people. For the morbidly obese, weight loss surgery is the only viable solution, he adds. Ramping up activity levels and following a good diet right from the beginning is the way to go, he says. “We get people who tell us, my father was obese so I am. That is because your entire family has the same lifestyle. A gene only increases your predisposition to becoming morbidly obese. Choosing to live healthy will counter that effect,” he says.