India’s Growing NCD Burden Among Children


India is witnessing a notable surge in non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension among its children. Health experts attribute this rise to the escalating consumption of unhealthy junk food, abundant in excessive sugar, //salt, and fat.

Dr. Sathya Sriram, CEO of Preventive Health at Apollo, highlighted a significant increase in obesity, pre-diabetes, fatty liver disease, and hypertension among Indian children, noting that cases of obesity have tripled and hypertension has quadrupled in the past five years. Speaking to IANS, experts emphasized the concerning trend linked to dietary habits.

Lifestyle Diseases Surging Among Unexpected Age Groups

These diseases, which were till a decade ago, largely associated with adulthood, are now increasing “in an age group we have never considered in the past. At Apollo, we have observed that the rate of incidence of NCDs (diabetes, obesity, hypertension, etc.) has nearly doubled in children between 5-17 years of age over the past decade”. Dr Sriram noted that 5-17 years is an age group where there should ‘technically and historically’ not be a growing impact of lifestyle diseases.

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However Apollo’s data, based on an analysis of nearly 10,000 screenings across walk-ins and campus outreach, showed 17 percent prediabetes cases — projecting a potentially early onset of diabetes as they step into adulthood. The incidence of diabetes was also found to have doubled in these ages over the past 5 years — from 1.37 percent in 2018 to 3.68 percent in 2023 across a nearly similar sample size, as indicated by HbA1C levels. Similarly, the data also showed hypertension cases in children as young as 7-year-olds, which is roughly 6 percent of those screened, Dr Sriram said.

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A sedentary lifestyle and genetic predisposition are important risk factors. But, Dr Arun Gupta, a pediatrician and Convener of Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi) — a national think-tank on nutrition, blames the surge on rising childhood obesity, majorly caused by the increased consumption of junk or ultra processed foods (UPF). He cited the National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) 3,4 and 5, which shows obesity is quickly rising in children and adult men and women.This can also be seen in the context of the growth of the ultra processed food industry in India, said Dr Gupta.

It is expected that UPF would expand more quickly than staple foods. The doctor added that even the families are not bothered about what the children are eating.“For example, biscuits are a very common junk food. While it seems unharmful, it contains salt, sugar and fats more than the WHO recommendations for daily intake. Lack of awareness on the risk it poses can explain why its consumption is rising among kids,” he told IANS.

Dr Sriram also highlighted the rise of mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression in children, which is further intensified by social and environmental factors.“Lifestyle shifts towards greater screen time are not only leading to orthopedic issues but also contributing to learning problems in children,” he told IANS.

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“Beyond non-communicable diseases and early mental health issues, a variety of conditions including vitamin and nutritional deficiencies, functional changes, and vision and hearing problems are important factors that can share a child’s future health.”These conditions, if unmanaged, can lead to serious complications and affect life quality and longevity,” Dr Sriram said.Dr Gupta called for “strict and clear regulation” on UPFs.

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“It would be a good step if children are encouraged to eat real food in their school canteen,” he said, noting that it will then also be extended at family level. Dr Sriram advised parents to make health check-ups a routine part of children, instead of waiting for illness. “These check-ups are essential not just for disease prevention but also for ensuring your child’s overall well-being and peak performance in all areas of life,” he said.

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Source-IANS



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