The Hindu Explains | How did the National Institute of Nutrition arrive at the ‘ideal’ weight of Indian men and women?

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The story so far: The National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), the Hyderabad-based premier research body of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has released a new set of guidelines, updating norms on recommended dietary allowances (RDA), which is the average daily intake needed for a nutritious diet. Besides several other recommendations, a salient point in the report released this week is the upward revision of the ‘ideal’ weight of Indian men and women.

How are these reports prepared?

In 1989, an expert committee constituted by the NIN to decide on what should be a nutritious diet, used data generated by studying body weights and heights of well-to-do Indian children and adolescents. This was not reflective of the breadth and diversity of India. The reference weights for a man and woman were fixed at 60 kg and 50 kg respectively. Another committee in 2010 considered extensive data on anthropometry collected by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau, using nutrition profiles from ten States of India for computing reference body weights. They computed reference weights for different age groups. Most of the data collected were from rural India, but the reference points for a single ‘ideal’ weight remained unchanged. For the latest report, NIN looked at nationally representative data from the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4, 2015-16), the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (2015-16), the World Health Organization (2006-07) and the Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP, 2016) to “derive acceptable reference body weight values through the lifespan.” The definition for a reference Indian adult man and woman were modified with regard to age (19-39 years) instead of (20-39 years) and a body weight of 65 kg and 55 kg respectively were fixed for a normal Body Mass Index (BMI). Though termed ‘ideal’, it is more appropriately a measure of the average weight of Indians.

How do Indians compare internationally?

The reference weights are a proxy for the nutritional status of the people of a country. International comparisons find that the average Indian is lighter than his or her counterparts globally. The average Dutch male is 87.4 kg and a woman 72.3 kg, and the average weight in the United Kingdom is 86.8 kg for men and 72.9 kg for women, according to data aggregator ‘WorldData.info’. Indians are closer to typical weights prevalent in Asia. The average Sri Lankan male is 61.3 kg and woman 56.2 kg, and the average Japanese man is 69 kg and woman 54.7 kg. The data, however, is based on 2010 estimates, and the latest NIN revision will push India up a few notches.

What are the dietary recommendations?

The guidelines specify the amount of carbohydrates, minerals, dietary fibre, fats and oils, protein, and even water, that a person must ideally consume. The water intake for an adult man ranges from 32-58 ml per kg body mass, and for a woman, it ranges from 27-52 ml per kg body mass. For children, the requirement is over 60 ml per kg body mass, and for adolescent boys it ranges from 47-60 ml per kg body mass, while for girls, it is 39-49 ml per kg body mass. For a pregnant woman, based on the working intensity, the water required from beverages ranges from 2.1 litres to 3.2 litres per day. A minimum 400 gram/day of fruits and vegetables are necessary to obtain sufficient antioxidant nutrients, such as beta-carotene, Vitamin C, and certain non-nutrients like polyphenols and flavonoids that reportedly protect against chronic diseases. This should be complemented with a sufficient amount of vegetable oil to obtain Vitamin E. The fat intakes for sedentary, moderate and heavy activities have been set at 25 gram/day, 30 g/d and 40 g/d respectively for an adult man, and 20 g/d, 25 g/d and 30 g/d for adult women.

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