In another five years, the number of obese children in the world will outnumber the malnourished ones.

A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Imperial College London, published in medical journal 'The Lancet', stated on Wednesday that obesity rates among the world's children and adolescents increased from less than 1% in 1975 to nearly 6% in girls and nearly 8% in boys in 2016.


India, however, features as the only undernourished zone in this global childhood obesity map. In 2016, the country was still home to 97 million of the world's moderately or severely underweight children and adolescents.


"India had the highest prevalence of moderately and severely underweight under-19s throughout these four decades (24.4% of girls and 39.3% of boys were moderately or severely underweight in 1975, and 22.7% and 30.7% in 2016),'' said the report.

Experts, however, cautioned that India's malnourished status conceals the unhealthy fact that obesity levels are galloping in several metros and cities. Dr V Mohan, one of the secondary authors of the Lancet study, said, "Compared to 1975, there is no denying that obesity among children has increased across the world. In India, too, BMI (body mass index) of children has increased, but not to the levels it has in some other countries, say, in the Americas and East Asia."

The study, which looked at BMI as a marker of obesity, said BMI among India's boys increased from 15.03 to 16.97 in 2016 while it increased from 1 5.74 to 16.94 among girls. A senior doctor said these obesity levels are not as worrisome as in some western countries. But Delhi-based endocrinologist Dr Anoop Misra said the overall India BMI doesn't give the entire picture. "In states such as Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, undernutrition is still a big issue." Dr Misra's previous studies have shown that 30% of urban India's children are either overweight or obese. "This number will grow as the junk food culture seems to dominate," he added. Dr Misra said while obesity levels were lower among children in rural India, many of them who migrate to urban areas tend to become obese more quickly than others. Imperial's School of Public Health professor Majid Ezzati, who is the main author of the Lancet study, said, "Over the past four decades, obesity rates in children and adolescents have soared globally, and continue to do so." The study said if post-2000 trends continued, global levels of child and adolescent obesity would surpass those for moderately and severely underweight for the same age group by 2022.

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