Undernutrition in villages, obesity in cities: Survey

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The latest round of family health surveys in India offered contrasting views on body weight, with urban residents much more likely to be obese than those in rural areas who are more prone to being underweight. .

This presents a complex scenario for policymakers with deficiency diseases such as anemia more common in rural areas while more people in cities suffer from hypertension, according to the latest round of the survey. National Family Health Policy (NFHS 2019-21).

Obesity, in general, is on the rise, according to the survey. One in four adults is overweight or obese, and more men and women are now above normal body weight index (BMI) compared to five years ago. The last round of the survey took place in 2015-2016. Women in cities and towns are the most affected demographic, with one in three being overweight or obese.

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Plump towns, lean villages

Increasing body weight is a trend in cities and towns. Up to 20% of rural women are either obese or overweight, up from 15% in 2015-16.

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However, as the country’s food security increases, the share of underweight adults has declined by 3 to 4 percentage points for both men and women. Rural women are the most underweight group, with 21% still reporting a lower than normal BMI.

This urban-rural division based on body weight is also reflected in the prevalence of the disease. Anemia, a blood disease that most often results from nutritional deficiencies, is more common in rural than urban India. The share of the anemic population is higher among rural women (59%) and men (27%), respectively, than their urban peers (54% and 20%)

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On the contrary, the prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases such as hyperglycemia and hypertension, caused by lack of physical activity, poor eating habits or the consumption of alcohol or tobacco, is relatively higher among urban populations. Up to 27% of urban men, the most affected group, have high blood pressure or take medication to control their blood pressure, compared to 23% of rural men, according to the survey. This is interesting because tobacco and alcohol consumption is considerably higher among rural populations than among urban populations, according to data from the NFHS.

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Hyperglycemia and hypertension are more prevalent in some of the high-income states such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala, while populations in low-income states such as Rajasthan, Assam and Bihar suffer the least from these diseases.

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