Urban Indians become obese while rural brothers starve

Nearly 70 million people are now considered overweight in India, one of the highest rates in the world. Once seen as a disease of decadence, obesity is spreading fast in industrialized cities throughout the country.

The situation is sparking expressions of concern and people realize the problem is real and are battling it – at least in New Delhi.

College student Anirban Mitra loves junk food. But weighing in at 130 kilos, his parents decided enough was enough and forced him to enroll in a weight loss program.

“If I reach 80 kilos I will look good. And the other thing is my dad and mom will be happy,” Anirban Mitra says.

At the other end of the social scale, in rural India malnourishment is endemic as the poor are struggling just to find food for their children.

Still, on the contrary in the cities, more than 30% of the population is obese. This is largely due to the popularity of oily food and sweets, and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. The problem is so common that obese people looking for love now even have their own website, overweightshadi.com, to help them find a partner to marry.

Obesity in India may be relatively new, but it’s not only because the middle class is eating more. Research shows that Indians are genetically at greater risk of becoming obese because they store more body fat per kilogram than average.

The Director of Fortis Hospitals, Anoop Misra, is adamant: “We should act early. The moment somebody crosses the 23 Body Mass Index, we start telling them what to eat, how much to exercise, and what investigations to do, because they are at a heightened risk of developing diabetes.”

No wonder, then, that urban Indians are signing up for weight loss programs out of fear of disease.

“There's definitely an increase in the percentage, about 25% to 30% every year. That's because obesity is becoming a very big problem and people are realizing the fact that they cannot lose weight on their own. They definitely need to go to a place which actually performs scientific weight loss,” insists Vandanaa Luthra, Founder of VLCC Health Care.

But in rural India, the notion that people could be so fat they are unhealthy would be seen as a poor joke, at best. Urban India may be getting fatter, but for the poor struggling for survival, obesity seems very far off.