Combating Childhood Obesity in India

The consumption of sugary drinks is one of the chief reasons for the childhood obesity epidemic, scientists say.

Childhood obesity is defined as an “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health.” According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 340 million children and adolescents around the world are considered obese. Childhood obesity rates overall have more than tripled since the 1970s. 

India has the second-highest number of obese children in the world after China. An estimated 14.4 million cases had been reported in India as of 2017. This phenomenon has led to concerns nationwide, since obesity puts kids at risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health risks.

“Childhood obesity is a scary thing, not just for the children affected, but also the parents,” said Usha Parupudi, my mother. As a parent, she realizes that obesity puts children at risk for high blood pressure and other medical conditions. “It also hampers their ability to experience a normal childhood,” she added, “and fully enjoy physical activities.”


Rohan gets his mother’s perspective about the causes and effects of childhood obesity.


Obesity can affect a child’s emotional well-being, too. Because of teasing and bullying, obese children tend to have a poor body image and low self-esteem. According to, feelings of shame and a lack of self-confidence can mean that a child’s academic performance at school suffers.

To gain a better understanding of the childhood obesity epidemic in India, I spoke with Sonal Agrawal, a pediatrician in Bangalore.

“The Indian markets have been bombarded with very attractive-looking fast foods and packaged foods,” Agrawal said. “They’re heavily advertised. A lot of parents don’t realize how nutritionally dangerous these foods are. They’re full of fats, carbohydrates, and additives.”

Agrawal also cited another cause of the epidemic: the decline in physical activity among kids due to an addiction to electronic gadgets. Even infants, she said, have more screen time than is recommended.

“There should be a [distinction] between beneficial screen time and ineffective screen time,” said Nikhil Mehrotra, a 14-year-old from Bangalore. “My mom has begun limiting the amount of Wi-Fi I get per day. This encourages me to use my phone less and go outside more, leading me to being a lot healthier and happier.”



When asked what parents could do to ensure that their child maintained a healthy lifestyle, Agrawal offered a few suggestions.

“A healthy diet consists of homemade native foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and plenty of water,” she said. “Juices, soda, chips, ice cream, biscuits, and candy are to be had at most once a week. Fast foods are OK maybe twice a month.”

Agrawal also emphasized the importance of physical activity. Kids should exercise at least 45-60 minutes per day, she said. Screen time, excluding homework, should be limited to 45 minutes per day.

Such efforts, Agrawal said, would help in the fight against childhood obesity not just in India, but around the world.



Top photo: Suzanne McCabe; bottom photo courtesy of the author