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Global Development Institute

WP190/2013

Double burden of malnutrition: Why are Indian women likely to be underweight and obese?

Vani S. Kulkarni, Veena S. Kulkarni, Raghav Gaiha

India has one of the highest underweight burdens in the world, with signs of rising obesity. Coexistence of underweight and overweight women is symptomatic of the double burden of malnutrition. The present study aims to throw new light on the double burden of malnutrition among Indian women in the age group 22-49 years. The analysis is based on a nationally representative household survey, India Human Development Survey, 2005. The results indicate that the factors underlying this burden include socio-economic status (SES), location, marital status, age, education, physical activity, media exposure, and dietary composition and frequency of eating. We find that there is a socio-economic patterning of underweight and overweight women, with a large concentration of underweight women among those with a low SES and of overweight women among high SES. Given that the health implications of being underweight and overweight are grim, it is imperative that there is a simultaneous increase in the focus on the health needs of overweight and obese people and on the needs of the large number of severely undernourished people in society. For Indian women, the glaring health/nutrition disparities are matched only by the grimness of their existence and survival prospects.