Health risks of obesity/being overweight for Indians

Obesity is a rapidly growing condition among affluent Indians.  It is a significant contributor to the diabetes and heart disease in Indian people. The severity of insulin resistance, which is the central health problem in obesity, is higher in Indians than white Caucasians . Also diabetes and heart diseases occur a decade earlier in Indians

Obesity statistics for Indian: alarming increase

According to a study published in the Lancet, India has seen a significant rise in obesity. India’s rank for total number of obese men has gone from 19th in the world in 1975 to 5th in 2014. For number of obese women, India ranks 3rd in the world.

But even this is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ because in this study, obesity was defined as BMI>30, as per western  standards. For Indians obesity is define as BMI>25

To date, there has been no  study on the prevalence of obesity in India, which has covered the whole nation. But ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) is conducting a study called the ICMR- India Diabetes (ICMR-INDIAD) Study. In its first phase the study covered three States and one Union Territory (UT), all in different regions of India. This meant covering a population of 21.3 crores of which nearly 3 crores were obese. If extrapolated  to the whole country, 13.5 crore Indians would be obese as per BMI cut-off of 25.  In addition, central or abdominal obesity (defined as waist circumference of >90 cm for men and 80 cm for men) afflicts an additional 15.3 crore Indians. Central obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes and metabolic syndrome

Effects of obesity on health

Due to the increased risk of morbidity and mortality, obesity is now being recognized as a disease in its own right.

Obesity and mortality risk

The recently published report of the largest international collaborative study regarding BMI and mortality , led by researchers at the Harvard, showed that Every 5 units higher BMI above 25 kg/mwas associated with about 31% higher risk of premature death. The risk of death from respiratory disease was higher by 38% and that from cancer was higher by 19%. Researchers also found that the hazards of excess body weight were greater in younger  people and in men .

Obesity and heart disease

Athero Sclerotic Cardio Vascular Diseases or simply CVD, which affect the heart and blood vessels of the body, and can lead to heart attack, stroke etc. is strongly linked with obesity. The Harvard study quoted above found that for each 5-unit increase in BMI above 25 kg/m2, the corresponding increases in risk were 49% for cardiovascular mortality

 Obesity and diabetes

Full spectrum of insulin resistance syndrome: prediabetes, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, abnormal blood fats: high total and bad cholesterol and TriGlycerides(TGs) are all strongly associated with obesity

Obesity is a major independent risk factor for diabetes, and more than 90% of type 2 diabetics are overweight or obese (American data) and a modest weight loss of ~5% along with other lifestyle modifications can reverse or control prediabetes and delay the progression to diabetes

Obesity and cancer

Every 5 units higher BMI above 25 kg/m2was associated with 19% risk for death from cancers

  • Obese and overweight women have two to four times the risk of developing endometrial cancer than women of a normal weight, regardless of menopausal status.
  • Men with obesity, particularly abdominal obesity have an strongly increased risk of colon cancer, the risk is higher for women also, but to a lesser extent
  • Women who gain weight after menopause, have higher risk of breast cancer
  • Risk of renal cell (kidney), esophageal and  gallbladder cancer also increases with obesity

Osteoarthritis (joint pain) and disability

Obstructive sleep apnoea:

OSA, a disease related with heavy snoring and irregular breathing while sleeping is strongly associated with obesity. In fact nearly all patients of OSA are obese

BMI above 25 kg/m2was associated with about 31% higher risk of premature death , 38% for     respiratory disease mortality, and 19% for cancer mortality.

GERD Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease


Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

Reproductive problems in women

Urinary incontinence

Obesity and depression:

Results from the most recent systematic review of  associations between depression and obesity conclude that obese persons had a 55% increased risk of developing depression over time. Also it showed that depressed persons had a 58% increased risk of becoming obese

The BMI and Waist Circumference based definitions of  obesity and overweight for Indians is different from those for Western populations, to know more, read our post on this topic

To get your weight category as per Indian standards

Also read ‘How to reduce weight‘ and How to manage health risks of obesity

CHECK OUT: Our references for recommendations on weight management