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Why India Still Fails To Recognize Obesity As A Disease

India has the 2nd highest number of obese children in the world at 14.4 million.

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According to a recent publication, more than 135 million Indians are affected by obesity - surpassed only by China and the US. Obesity is one of the major causes of morbidity, impacts the quality of life and reduces workforce productivity. 73% of urban Indians are overweight, that is 3 out of 4 people. According to a recent Lancet report, 34% of India’s population is insufficiently active. What is even more alarming is that millions of youngsters and millennials are battling medical conditions and complications that arise from obesity - such as hypertension, sleep apnea, diabetes (India has 80 million diabetics), joint problems, heart disease, respiratory issues and even various forms cancers.

India has the 2nd highest number of obese children in the world at 14.4 million. Research says overweight children are more likely to become obese as adults & are at a higher risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases than their peers. India is also projected to become “The Diabetes capital in the world”.

The dangers of Obesity

Leading obesity surgeon Dr Sanjay Borude warns, “If you thought Obesity is a mere lifestyle disorder only due to excessive eating, we need to think again. There are a lot of other factors associated with obesity than just mere overeating and lack of physical activity. In fact, it is a complex multifactorial disease caused by many factors such as metabolic, genetic, hormonal conditions which are difficult to treat with lifestyle modifications alone. It is not a disease to be taken lightly, rather, it needs to be managed with the right treatment and expert consultation.”

One of the most scientific and proven options to address morbid obesity is Bariatric surgery. Clinical evidence suggest that Bariatric (weight loss) surgery is a solution for morbidly obese people who have failed dietary regimes, lifestyle modifications and have comorbidities. For such cases, surgery can help them in combating not only obesity & many related diseases but can also help in maintaining weight loss in the long term. 

What is Bariatric Surgery?

Bariatric surgery is a surgical procedure that helps you lose significant weight by making changes to the digestive system.  There are different types of Bariatric surgeries (weight loss surgeries), a consultation with a doctor helps in understanding the most suitable surgical procedure for an Individual.  Those patients can opt for Bariatric surgery who have BMI > 40 and BMI > 35 with comorbidities such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or severe sleep apnea. 

What’s more, most people who are struggling with obesity are also battling societal stigma. Obesity is not a choice or a result of a lack of willpower. It’s high time, we understand that Obesity is a disease – which needs treatment by an expert. Even the government of India has taken a serious note of this epidemic and has ensured strong measures to help those suffering from obesity. The National Multisectoral Action Plan for prevention and control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), National Monitoring Framework (NMF), Ayushman Bharat and #FitIndiaMoment are some of the key initiatives of the government to support this cause

What many Indians are unaware of

The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) recently included bariatric surgery under insurance. However, this much needed revolutionary step for a fitter and healthier India is not known to all. In fact, insurance cover for bariatric surgery remains an unknown fact for the majority of Indians. To understand what this means for those of us struggling with obesity, we spoke to Dr Abhay Agrawal, a leading obesity surgeon in Mumbai and the Insurance director of Obesity Surgeon Society of India (OSSI). Dr Agrawal explains “Till a few years back, Bariatrics in India was not covered under insurance. However, with the joint efforts of IRDAI and Obesity Surgeon Society of India, IRDAI has now taken a big leap in issuing a circular wherein Bariatric surgery will be covered under insurance by standardizing exclusions beginning October 2020. Many countries in the world already provide insurance coverage for Bariatric surgery and there’s enough data to prove that various diseases cured with Bariatric surgery will save significant cost to the insurance companies in the long run.

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