Over 30 per cent residents of Himachal Pradesh are overweight or obese, and more than half the state’s population suffers from abdominal obesity, the fifth National Family Health Survey has found.
According to the survey, 30.4% women in the state, 30.6% men are overweight. In fact, over 40 per cent of those surveyed in the state were found to be underweight, overweight or obese, i.e. their body mass index (BMI) was either below or above normal, according to the survey that covered nearly 11,000 households in the state. The survey was conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, and released by the Union Health Minister a few days ago.
Its results found that a little over 30 per cent of both men and women in Himachal have a BMI of 25 kg per metre square or above, which by WHO standards means overweight (30 and above is obese). The proportion of overweight or obese residents was higher in urban areas as compared to rural areas.
But rural areas had a higher ratio of people who were underweight, i.e. having a BMI below 18.5 kg/m sq. Overall, around 14 per cent women and 12 per cent men were found to be underweight. As compared to the last such survey conducted in 2015-16, the percentage of underweight people has decreased, but that of overweight people has increased.
The survey mostly covered women, and the highest overweight percentage among women was reported from districts large parts of which have a semi-hilly terrain with low hills and plains – Una (41 per cent), followed by Hamirpur, Mandi and Kangra. Districts comprising middle and high hills generally recorded lower overweight percentage. Chamba and Sirmaur (23 per cent) reported the lowest overweight percentage followed by Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti.
“Overweight is understandably higher in the low hills and plain areas where each house and farm is connected by road and the slopes are not too steep. In the higher hills, road connectivity is limited due to which people have to walk much more and over steeper slopes,” remarked Sunil Thakur, a university student in Shimla.
Another resident, Mohan Lal, however, said that lack of connectivity and remote location of a hamlet can sometimes also lead to a more sedentary lifestyle as the inhabitants do not move around freely.
“Also, overweight does not prevail in all urban areas. Shimla, for example, has healthier residents because the core area of the town is pedestrian-friendly and restricted for vehicles, as a result of which people generally end up walking a minimum of several kilometres each day,” he said.
The survey also found that 62 per cent women and 52 per cent men in the state have a ‘high risk waist-to-hip ratio’ or abdominal obesity which according to WHO is associated with increased disease risk. Waist-hip ratio is the ratio of the circumference of the waist to that of the hips. A ratio of 0.85 or above for women and 0.90 or above for men indicates abdominal obesity.
The survey report said that 20 to 25 per cent Himachalis have elevated blood pressure, and around 14 per cent have a high blood sugar level.
Over 80% women in Lahaul-Spiti anaemic
Further, 53 per cent of women in Himachal aged 15 to 49 years have anaemia (reduced red blood cells or haemoglobin in blood), the survey has found. The ratio is the highest in the district of Lahaul and Spiti, where 82 to 86 percent women in this age group are anaemic, and a whopping 91 percent children aged 6 to 59 months are anaemic.
According to health officials, this high ratio can be attributed to the shortage of fresh vegetables in the high-altitude cold desert. It remains cut-off from the rest of the state for around six months during the snow season, during which the inhabitants are unable to access fresh produce from outside. Beginning this year, a tunnel which is expected to give all-weather connectivity to Lahaul offers hope to the valley’s residents.
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