UPSC Mains 2019: Over-nutrition in India

Missing Nutrition Targets

Topic: Over-nutrition in India

Topic in Syllabus: GS Paper 1 –  Indian Society

Over Nutrition


Over nutrition:

Over nutrition or hyper alimentation is a form of malnutrition in which the intake of nutrients is oversupplied. The amount of nutrients exceeds the amount required for normal growth, development, and metabolism.


Over nutrition can be either:

  • General: due to excessive amounts of food of any or all types, leading to obesity and the many life-threatening conditions associated with it.
  • Specific: excess of a single nutrient e.g. a single vitamin or mineral. The health consequences of such excess depend on the nutrient and the severity of the excess. Different medical conditions, hence different symptoms and risks, follow from different excesses.


Causes for over Nutrition:

          There are many possible reasons for a person’s over nutrition. Increasing numbers of people (including children) are affected by over nutrition, especially in relatively rich parts of the world.

  • Energy intake vs energy usage – The body needs a certain amount of energy (from food) to support and renew its tissues and structures and to perform daily tasks. The required energy varies with age, gender, lifestyle, and sometimes individual medical issues / biochemistry
  • Types of foods eaten – Some types of foods contain more energy (higher calories) than other types of foods. Some foods can be more efficiently broken-down and used by the body than other foods. Therefore the types of foods consumed – as well as the amounts -affect the liklihood of the person putting on excessive weight
  • Eating habits – The types of foods eaten is just one aspect of eating habits. The habit of eating regular meals, including eating breakfast, is associated with lower risk of obesity whereas a less structured lifestyle that includes frequently eating unhealthy snacks while also pursuing other tasks is associated with higher risk of obesity.
  • Metabolic factors – The efficiency with which food energy is converted into energy for use by a person’s body (any excess being stored as fat) varies from person to person. Metabolic rate depends several factors including basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is metabolic rate at rest, and physical activity level
  • Psychological Factors – Stress can affect body mass. Depending on a person’s biochemical and psychological responses to emotions such as stress, anxiety, depression and self-worth he or she may lose weight during periods of intense emotion – either due to his or her metabolic responses and/or, in some cases, due to a tendency to eat less under those circumstances.
  • Environmental Factors – The circumstances in which someone grew up, including the food he or she was given and the habits and attitudes that he or she observed and was influenced by can all combine to affect that person’s own habits, attitudes and beliefs throughout life.
  • Hormonal Factors – Hormones secreted by the endocrine glands in the body can also affect risk of over nutrition, especially via their impact on metabolism and metabolic rate. As mentioned above (in 4. Metabolic Factors), the hormone thyroxin (secreted by the thyroid gland) is important for regulation of BMR.
  • Medication – Use of certain types of drugs such as some steroids, antipsychotics, antidepressants, seizure medications and even some medications for diabetes have been associated with weight gain.
  • Genetic Factors – Correlation between the body mass index (BMI) of parents and their children may be explained in terms of both environmental factors, i.e. children learn lifestyle habits from their parents (as mentioned in 7. above) and genetics.


 However, even people of a healthy weight (or who are under-weight) can experience adverse effects of ‘over nutrition’ as a result of consuming an excessive amount of a single nutrient, e.g. a vitamin or mineral. That can happen for various reasons such as:

  • Only having access to a limited range of foods hence consuming too much of some dietary components as well as, perhaps, not enough of others.
  • Having a healthy diet and lifestyle and also consuming unnecessary dietary supplements such that the combination of food and supplement intake result in an overall dangerous excess of one or more nutrients. This can be a particular risk when taking several different types of supplements without studying the labels carefully to ensure that the combination is appropriate for the person.
  • ‘Fad diets’, meaning extreme eating regimes which are often promoted with claims about achieving desired goals, e.g. for weight loss, in a very short time, can be unsafe if they involve consuming excessive quantities of a limited range of foods. Such regimes can place people at risk from excessive amounts of some nutrients as well as from under nutrition diseases.


Over Nutrition is a serious problem for India:

  • India is becoming a land where the trends of over nutrition and malnutrition happen simultaneously. Over-nutrition is emerging as an emergency in India.
  • As per the recent findings of the National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16), the Body Mass Index (BMI) of 15.5% of urban women was found to be less than 18.5 kg/m2, whereas 31.3% of urban women were in the category of overweight or obese (BMI of or more than 25.0 kg/m2).
  • Around 15% of urban men were underweight, while 26.3% belonged to the category of overweight and obese.
  • According to National family health survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4) 9.5% of children under the age of five are overweight and 3% obese.
  • Overweight and obesity are on the rise in almost every country, with two billion of the world’s seven billion people now overweight or obese and a less than one per cent chance of meeting the global target of halting the rise in obesity and diabetes by 2025.
  • More than 22 per cent of adult women are overweight, a rising concern as women are disproportionately affected by the global obesity epidemic.
  • Dramatic changes in lifestyle and dietary patterns in recent decades have contributed to an increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases. If this double burden of under nutrition and growing percentage of obesity and associated non-communicable diseases is not controlled, it can have serious implications for the economy.


India’s efforts to overcome Malnutrition:


National Nutrition Strategy:

The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog launched National Nutrition Strategy aimed at Kuposhan Mukt Bharat. It intends at bringing nutrition to centre-stage of National Development Agenda. It lays down roadmap for targeted action to address India’s nutritional needs.

  • The national nutrition strategy calls for convergence between four proximate determinants of nutrition: uptake of health services, food, drinking water & sanitation and, income & livelihoods.
  • It envisages Kuposhan Mukt Bharat – linked to Swachh Bharat and Swasth Bharat.
  • The strategy lays down a roadmap for effective action, among both implementers and practitioners, in achieving our nutrition objectives.
  • It enables states to make strategic choices, through decentralized planning and local innovation, with accountability for nutrition outcomes.
  • It also gives prominence to demand and community mobilization as key determinant to address India’s nutritional needs to bring behavioral change efforts to generate demand for nutrition services.


National Nutrition Mission:

  • The Strategy aims to launch a National Nutrition Mission, similar to the National Health Mission.
  • This is to enable integration of nutrition-related interventions cutting across sectors like women and child development, health, food and public distribution, sanitation, drinking water, and rural development.


POSHAN Abhiyaan:

  • It aims to ensure holistic development and adequate nutrition for pregnant women, mothers and children.
  • It targets to reduce level of under-nutrition and other related problems by ensuring convergence of various nutrition related schemes.
  • It also targets stunting, under-nutrition, anaemia (among young children, women and adolescent girls) and low birth rate.
  • It will monitor and review implementation of all such schemes and utilize existing structural arrangements of line ministries wherever available.
  • Its large component involves gradual scaling-up of interventions supported by ongoing World Bank assisted Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Systems Strengthening and Nutrition Improvement Project (ISSNIP) to all districts in the country by 2022.



The Sustainable Development Goal-2, which aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”, is a priority area for India. To ensure food and nutrition security, there is a growing need for a multispectral approach. The policies and programmes of various ministries should be converged for better results. Nutrition transition is a global phenomenon. India has entered the dual nutrition burden phase of nutrition transition. The country will have to work towards shortening the duration of the transition and minimizing the prevalence of both under and over nutrition and their adverse consequences. Vertical programmes to convergence of related sectors to provide integrated comprehensive services to improve nutrition and health status.


Sample Question

Over nutrition pose a significant challenge in many developing countries, including India. Discuss the how Over Nutrition a serious problem for India, and enumerate the Government efforts to tackle the problem.