IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Telling Numbers: Body mass index of Indian 19-year-olds among lowest in 200 countries

8th November, 2020 Editorial

Context: India ranks third and fifth from the bottom respectively among countries where 19-year-old girls and boys have a low body mass index (BMI), according to a study published in The Lancet.

  • The study provides new estimates for height and BMI trends in 2019 across 200 countries after analyzing data from 2,181 studies.


  • BMI is measured as the weight in kg divided by the square of the height in metres.
  • World Health Organization guidelines define a normal BMI range as 18.5 to 24.9, overweight as 25 or higher, and obesity as 30 or higher.
  • The mean BMI of 19-year-old boys is 20.1 in India, compared to a high of 29.6 in the Cook Islands and a low of 19.2 in Ethiopia.
  • For Indian girls, the mean BMI is again 20.1, compared to a high of 29.0 in Tonga and a low of 19.6 in Timor-Leste.
  • The mean height of Indian 19-year-olds is 166.5 cm for boys and 155.2 cm for girls, well below the high of Netherlands boys (183.8 cm) and girls (170 cm).

  • The analysis charts child and adolescent physical growth trends over 35 years.
  • Both height and BMI have increased from 1985 to 2019 although there is still a great deal of potential for height while curbing any future rise in obesity so programmes targeted towards the poor from birth through school years are needed.
  • In developing countries like India, we have a dual burden i.e., overnutrition and undernutrition.
  • The prevalence of overweight and obesity among adolescents of both Indian girls and boys is lower when compared to children of developed nations.
  • The reasons could be several, like variations in the epigenetic, dietary intakes, familial, psychosocial, parental education, occupations, income etc.
  • There is a need for regular diet and nutrition surveys in India to avert the increase of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents.
  • “Overweight and obesity are mostly carried over to adult age and are causes for many metabolic disorders like insulin resistance, diabetes, hypertension, CVDs, stroke, and some cancers.”