How WhatsApp Can Solve India’s Growing Weight Problem

Indians are using WhatsApp to find solutions with the growing issue brought by overweight and obesity that can lead to complications that will eventually cause hospitalization, or worst — eventual death.

Obesity is a condition where a person has accumulated abnormal or excessive body fat — usually, the result of an imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended — that causes adverse effects on a person’s health. Meanwhile, being overweight is when a person tips above the average weight recommended based on their body mass index (BMI), which accounts for height, age, and weight.

Researchers have detailed that overweight and obesity are critical and is a growing public health issue that needs to be addressed. In particular, overweight and obesity kill more people than underweight.

Particularly for India, The University of Rochester Medical Center notes that overweight and obesity are among the top common health issues due to lack of physical activity and improper nutrition practices in the country. The list is followed by an excess of tobacco consumption, and substance abuse of drugs and alcohol, among others.

Specifically, it is a predisposing factor that triggers and leads to non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, dyslipidemia, and endometrial, breast, prostate, and colon cancers.

As of 2016 data by The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) found that non-communicable diseases and injuries continue to be the primary cause of death among people of all age groups in India — resulting to about 6 million deaths.

Fortunately, overweight, obesity and their related non-communicable disease are preventable by making a lifestyle change such as increased physical activity, healthier food choices, and decrease in substance consumption of drugs and alcohol.

WhatsApp, the country’s largest social media platform choice for messaging, is helping its 200 million active Indians by using the application to introduce, encourage, and maintain healthy lifestyles.

The competition, “Startup India — WhatsApp Grand Challenge,” was part of a program launched by WhatsApp and Invest India in October 2018. It aimed at inspiring entrepreneurs to develop solutions “that have a socio-economic impact on the Indian economy at scale.”

As a result of the said competition, a startup called “Squats” was one of the finalists due to its intuitive way of offering tailor-made fitness solutions.

“Squats” started with a unique story by primarily starting as a messaging group in WhatsApp, where Indians can join to gain fitness tips and guides.

The startup was founded by fitness enthusiast Jitendra Chouksey, who was a consultant with an IT company when he started counseling his friends on how to get fit.

“When they saw the results, they told others, starting a chain reaction. Soon I was being chased by hundreds of people to train them,” says Chouksey. 

The platform now has 4 lakh members and also provides workshops and seminars. “The service includes one-on-one mentoring for lifestyle change through nutrition and training guidance,” says Chouksey to the Indian Times. A three-month course costs between 7,000 Indian Rupees up to 20,000 Indian Rupees, depending on the services required. 

The startup, paved by WhatsApp, was particularly effective and saw fast growth because of the lack of sufficient health care in the country and hindered by the belief that obesity and overweight problems were not a prevalent issue.

Initially, overweight and obesity were considered to be a first-world problem. However, recent studies revealed that the issue is growing in developing countries as well.

Since 1980 obesity has doubled worldwide. In 2014 more than 1.9 billion adults (18 years and older) and 41 million children under the age of five were overweight. Nearly half of the children under five who were overweight or obese in 2014 lived in Asia.

In the National Family Health Survey India-3 (NFHS-3), thirteen percent of women aging between 15-49 years old and nine percent of men with the same age group were overweight or obese in 2005-2006. Overweight prevalence was higher in urban areas than in rural areas.

A study showed that the percentage of women who are overweight or obese is highest in Punjab, followed by Kerala, and Delhi — all of which are wealthy states, concluding that the prevalence of overweight and obesity is three times higher among women with 12 or more years of educational background than those with none. 

The same study also said that overweight and obesity in Indian women has “its roots in societal and cultural mores, which prevent women from leading a healthy lifestyle.” Making the WhatsApp group found in their mobile devices easily accessible and more convenient.

The Indian Times reported that the Squats is now recognized as the Best Wellness Service Provider in Maharashtra, in 2017, by Worldwide Achievers, and Best Fitness Company in Pune in 2017 by Merit Awards and Market Research, Squats is now setting up brick-and-mortar diet and wellness centers and has established one center each in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, and Hyderabad. “We aim to establish 10 such centers in 2018-19 and have a target of 120 centers by 2020,” says Chouksey. 

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