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The BBC's Tim Irwin
"Growing wealth has led to expanding waistlines"
 real 56k

Monday, 23 October, 2000, 14:17 GMT
India faces weighty problem
Early morning exercisers at Lodhi Gardens
Burning it up at Delhi's Lodhi Gardens
By Tim Irwin in Delhi

A condition which has long affected people in the West is now becoming increasingly common in India.

Obesity is rarely a problem people usually associate with India. But one study has found that nearly half of all high-income women in Delhi are overweight.

Doctors are warning that if left unchecked, obesity could become a major health problem.

Women at a Delhi fast food restaurant
"Half of all high-income women are overweight"
In the early mornings in Delhi's Lodhi Gardens the paths and walkways are busy with people trying to burn off some calories.

The park is in one of the city's most exclusive neighbourhoods and the people striding through it with such determination are almost all members of Delhi's well-heeled and well-fed elite.

Judging from the size and number of stomachs hanging over waistbands, for many here it is going to be an uphill struggle, even though the park is mostly on the level.

Frying at a roadside cafe
Fried snacks are available everywhere
Like their counterparts in the West, Indian professionals are increasingly falling victim to the combination of too little exercise and too much food.

And health food it isn't. Fried snacks and sweets are available at every market.

Body beautiful

For the urban middle class, with time and money to spare, it is proving increasingly difficult to resist temptation.

Earlier you were naturally fit, it was not something you hankered for, but in the last five years it has begun to matter tremendously

Shashi Sunny, Editor of Health and Nutrition magazine
The samosas and gulab jamuns on offer may be traditional, but the balance between how people live and what they eat is changing.

"Before people ate less fattening food and got more exercise. Now it's the reverse and Indians are getting fat," says Dr Rekha Sharma, a dietician at one of Delhi's leading hospital.

They may be larger, but the look that Indians aspire to is definitely getting smaller.

Carrying a few extra pounds was once viewed as a sign of prosperity. Now, images of fleshy film stars have given way to those of waif like models.

Snacking in Delhi
Hard to resist the temptation
Body consciousness has arrived. And according to Shashi Sunny, editor of Health and Nutrition magazine, the desire to attain the ideal is becoming an obsession.

"It's a big thing now and is changing traditional Indian values," she says.

"Earlier you were naturally fit. It was not something you hankered for. But in the last five year it has begun to matter tremendously," she adds.

Widening problem

For most labourers, like those eating at simple roadside foodstalls, worries about weight are unimaginable.

Nearly half of the population of India earns less than a dollar a day. For them obesity is just not an issue.

Delhi gym
Gains for the weight-loss industry
But according to Pushpesh Pant of Delhi's Nehru University, as more people move from the countryside to the cities even the poor are getting fatter.

In gyms across the capital, personal trainers encourage clients to pay the price for over-indulgence.

The weight-loss industry is a recent arrival in India but as more people struggle to match their appetites to their lifestyles it's a business with a healthy future.

A city where the next meal is literally just around the corner is every dieter's nightmare.

But as more people struggle to balance their appetites with their lifestyles, there is growing agreement that something has to change.

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See also:

23 May 00 | Health
China battles obesity
10 Aug 00 | Health
Breakthrough in obesity study
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