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Why are Indian children getting fatter?

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Why are Indian children getting fatter?

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India has long topped the list of countries with the highest number of stunted children in the world. It's now increasingly also reporting alarming levels of childhood obesity which, experts say, could take on the form of an epidemic if not tackled urgently.

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When 14-year-old Mihir Jain first rolled into Delhi's Max Hospital in 2017 in his wheelchair to consult Dr Pradeep Chowbey, the bariatric surgeon said he "couldn't believe my eyes".

"Mihir was grossly obese, he couldn't stand properly and he wasn't able to open his eyes as his face was fluffy. He weighed 237kg (523lbs) and his body mass index (BMI) was 92." According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a BMI of 25 or above is considered overweight.

After weeks of treatment and a gastric bypass surgery in the summer of 2018, Mihir's weight came down to 165kg.

At the time, Mihir was described as the "world's heaviest teen" - the label could be an exaggeration, but India is home to an estimated 18 million overweight and obese children and their number is rising daily.

The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5, conducted in 2019-21), the most comprehensive household survey of health and social indicators by the government, found that 3.4% of children under five are now overweight compared with 2.1% in 2015-16.

On the face of it, the numbers seem small, but Dr Arjan de Wagt, chief of nutrition at Unicef in India, says that "even a very small percentage can mean very large numbers" because of the size of the Indian population.

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