World Obesity Federation

World Obesity policy roundtable: Addressing the Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change in India

NewsWorld Obesity policy roundtable: Addressing the Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change in India

In January 2019 World Obesity Federation launched the Lancet Commission report: The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change.

The Commission looked at obesity in a wider context, revealing the common underlying societal and political drivers for malnutrition in all its forms. The Commission urges a radical rethink of business models, food systems, civil society involvement, and national and international governance.

To take forward the recommendations of the Commission, World Obesity partnered with HRIDAY in India to explore the issues and identify priorities for India during a policy roundtable.

Historically, the most widespread form of malnutrition in India has been undernutrition, including wasting, stunting, and micronutrient deficiencies.  However, this is changing. The prevalence of obesity has increased significantly in India over the last few decades. Though prevalence for underweight is declining, the trend is not matching the pace needed to achieve the SDG target (SDG 2) on Zero Hunger.  About a third of the adult population in urban India is currently estimated to be overweight or obese. According a recent study, more than 135 million individuals were affected by obesity in India. Being a modifiable risk factor, it is crucial to set policy priorities and identify intervention efforts to prevent debilitating complications attributable to obesity.

Climate change also poses significant risk for India – it will increase under nutrition through increased food insecurity from extreme weather events, droughts, and shifts in agriculture.  Higher prices for basic food commodities, especially fruit and vegetables, will potentially result in increasing consumption of processed foods, a cause of obesity. According to the report some 600 million Indians could be affected by 2050.

India is thus suffering from a “Global Syndemic” of obesity, undernutrition and climate change.

Efforts to address obesity and undernutrition will also be beneficial for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and vice versa. These double-duty or triple-duty actions influence multiple parts of the Syndemic simultaneously. Such actions, which seek to re-orient major systems of food and agriculture, transport, urban design, and land use that drive the Global Syndemic, need to occur locally, nationally, and globally.

Participants, including government and UN representatives, academics, civil society organizations and youth, discussed the Syndemic in India and made the following recommendations for priority action:


Healthy and sustainable diets

Recognising the continuing need to ensure many millions of Indians have enough food, there needs to a be shift in thinking from focusing on the right to food, to the right to a healthy diet.

Advertising of unhealthy foods

The rise of overweight, obesity and diabetes in India is a health and social emergency. Underlying these worrying trends is misleading advertisements of junk food across all media, especially to children. Such advertising undermines current and will impede all future efforts to address malnutrition in India.

Newsflash! As a result of interactions during the meeting, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is already taking proactive action against the ubiquitous adverts by McDonalds and other fast-food companies.

Read more about the story here.

Creating healthy school environments

The balance between academic success and child health is important for enhancing their productivity in adulthood. Schools present an important area for intervention around malnutrition in all forms, through canteens and regular health checks. Collaboration with the Ministry of Education will be required toward ensuring schools provide holistic development and apart from academic outcomes, physical and mental health outcomes are reviewed too.

People living with obesity as agents of change

The millions of people living with obesity, including many young people, in India have the potential to enact great influence and change. When it comes to tackling obesity, people living with the condition are the real experts. Empowering patients to demand and take action is an important next step for this meeting. WOF could consider a patient summit in India to help mobilise people living with obesity.

World Obesity India Roundtable Report