Obama: We’ll Work on ‘Issue of Obesity’ in India (Where 30.7% of Children Under 5 Are Underweight)

By Terence P. Jeffrey | January 28, 2015 | 1:17pm EST

President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi share tea in New Delhi on Jan. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Press Trust of India)

(CNSNews.com) - In a joint radio appearance with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday, President Barack Obama said there is a “worldwide epidemic of obesity” and that he looks forward to working with the government of India and non-governmental organizations on the “issue of obesity” in India.

In 2013-2014, according to a survey conducted by UNICEF and India's Ministry of Women and Child Development, 30.7 percent of Indian children under five were underweight.

That was a significant improvement for India, where 43.5 percent of the children under five had been underweight at the time of the last survey in 2005-2006.

"India no longer ranks second-to-last in the world on underweight in children," said the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). "Instead, it has moved into the 120th spot among 128 countries."

According to the United Nations World Food Program a quarter of all undernourished people on Earth live in India; and the Global Hunger Index, produced by the International Food Policy Research Institute, placed India 55th out of 76 countries it ranked for hunger.

North Korea and Cambodia were among the countries that had better scores than India on this issue.

Obama addressed the “issue of obesity” in India after it was brought up in a question posed by a listener.

“After leaving office, do you and the First Lady plan to or intend to come to India--for instance, as Bill Gates and Belinda Gates have taken up cleanliness as an issue in India--so do you think that you would work on obesity and diabetes?” the person asked.

We very much look forward to partnering with organizations and the government and non-governmental organizations here in India around broader public health issues, including the issue of obesity,” said Obama.

“I’m very proud of the work that Michelle has done on this issue,” he said. “We’re seeing a worldwide epidemic of obesity, in many cases starting at a very young age. Part of it has to do with the increase in processed foods not naturally prepared. Part of it is the lack of activity for too many children. And once they’re on this path, it can lead to a lifetime of health challenges.

“And so this is an issue that we’d like to work on internationally, including here in India,” said.

UN agencies and non-governmental organization have pointed to undernourishment, and underweight children, as a serious problem in India.

“An estimated 32.7 percent of the Indian population lives on less than US$ 1.25 per day,” says the UN World Food Program. “The country is home to a quarter of all undernourished people worldwide. Any global impact on hunger requires progress in food and nutrition security in India.”

“India ranks 135th out of 187 countries in the 2014 UNDP Human Development Index and 55th out of 76 countries in the Global Hunger Index,” says the World Food Program. “While per capita income in India has more than tripled in the last two decades, the minimum dietary intake reduced during the same period.”

The Global Hunger Index is based on three criteria, says the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). These are undernourishment, underweight children, and child mortality. Undernourishment is measured by the percentage of the population “with insufficient caloric intake.” Underweight children is measured by looking at the percentage of children under five year of age who “have low weight for their age, reflecting wasting, stunted growth, or both.” Child mortality is the death rate for children under five.

The Global Hunger Index is on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being the best score.

“A value of 100 would be reached only if the whole population was undernourished, all children younger than five were underweight, and all children died before their fifth birthday,” says IFPRI. “A value of zero would mean that a country had no undernourished people in the population, no children younger than five who were underweight, and no children who died before their fifth birthday.”

The IFPRI does not rank nations with scores that are better than (n.b. lower than) 5. Of the 76 nations with scores worse than 5, India ranked 55th with a score of 17.8. North Korea, by comparison, did better than that, ranking 44th with a score of 16.4. Cambodia ranked 43rd with a score of 16.1; and Rwanda ranked 40th with a score of 15.6.

The ISFPRI notes that India has made some progress in its GHI rating. Nine years ago, 43.5 percent of Indian children under five were estimated to be underweight. By last year, it had dropped to 30.7 percent.

“At 30.7 percent, it points to real progress compared with the last estimate of 43.5 percent in 2005–2006,” said IFRPI.

“As a consequence, India no longer ranks second to last on underweight in children, but 120th among 128 countries with data on child undernutrition from 2009–2013,” said IFRPI.

“Progress in dealing with underweight helped India’s 2014 GHI score fall to 17.8,” the group said.

“While no longer in the 'alarming' category, India’s hunger status is still classified as 'serious,' according to the GHI,” said the group.

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