India still strives to feed all of more than a billion population but childhood obesity and diabetes noted among the middle classes, who have largely benefited from a decade of expanding economic growth.
Childhood obesity has increased in the last couple of years, according to Dr. Paula Goel, from the Fayth Clinic in Mumbai, which runs a weight loss program for adolescents.
The reason according to Goel most young people spend so much time on sedentary activities that come with the affluent lifestyle.
Socio-environmental factors, though, are now seen as playing an increasing role in the rising number of cases of Type 2 diabetes in India.
Children that are on the verge of developing Type 2 diabetes are not of exceptional cases, especially in a country traditionally associated with malnourishment and chronic food shortages rather than overeating and weight-related illness.
The condition, which occurs when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it makes, largely as a result of excess body weight and physical inactivity, was previously seen mainly in older people but now prevalent also to children.
High-fat, high-sugar, fast food outlets proliferate in Indian cities, catering for a hard-working, time-poor population eager to spend its new-found cash, with Western brands often chosen as a sign of wealth.
“All over the world, except India, people love bland, less spicy food,” said Himank Doshi, a medical student tucking into a takeaway from a stall on Mumbai’s Chowpatty Beach.
“They love the boiled food and all for the nutrition. But Indian people are less concerned about nutrition. They first focus on the spice of the food, the taste.”Doshi added.
That mindset, plus a decline in physical activity through increased car use and a lack of open spaces for exercise, is a dangerous combination.
Anoop Misra, president of the Center for Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol Disorders in New Delhi, says India has the highest number of diabetics in the world at just under 51 million people.
But that number could increase by nearly 150 percent in the next 20 years, he warned.
The high number of cases among South Asian people has been attributed to genetic factors, including a predisposition to storing more fat.