London, Oct 11: Nearly 97 million of the world’s underweight children and adolescents lived in India in 2016, a new study by science journal Lancet said.
The findings showed that India had the highest population of “moderate-to-severely” underweight children and young adults aged between 5-to-19 years in the past four decades.
Although the number remained high, there was a decline in the number of underweight children from 24.4 per cent of girls and 39.3 per cent of boys in 1975 to 22.7 per cent and 30.7 per cent in 2016 respectively.
In contrast, an estimated 192 million — 75 million girls and 117 million boys — were moderately or severely underweight worldwide in 2016.
Being underweight has been associated with higher risk of infectious diseases.
For girls of childbearing age, being underweight was associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes, including maternal mortality, delivery complications, preterm births and intrauterine growth retardation, said Majid Ezzati, Professor at the Imperial College London.
Unlike the underweight trend, the number of obese 5-to-19-years-olds rose more than 10-fold globally, from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016.
Obesity rates increased from less than 5 million girls and 6 million boys in 1975 to nearly 50 million girls and 74 million boys in 2016.
If post-2000 trends continue, global levels of child and adolescent obesity would surpass those for moderately and severely underweight for the same age group by 2022, the researchers warned.
“These worrying trends reflect the impact of food marketing and policies across the globe, with healthy nutritious foods too expensive for poor families and communities.
“The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and also malnourished,” Ezzati said.
Preventing and reversing excess weight in children and adolescents was important because it was associated with greater risk and earlier onset of chronic disorders such as Type-2 diabetes.
“We need ways to make healthy, nutritious food more available at home and school, especially in poor families and communities, and regulations and taxes to protect children from unhealthy foods,” Ezzati added.
For the study, the team analysed weight and height measurements from nearly 130 million people aged over 5 (31.5 million people aged five to 19, and 97.4 million aged 20 and older), from 1975 to 2016.
The number of obese adults increased from 100 million in 1975 (69 million women, 31 million men) to 671 million in 2016 (390 million women, 281 million men), the researchers said.