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Western Fast Food Bulges Waistlines in India

McDonald's Outlet

Every day at lunchtime in India you can see long queues in fast food restaurants like McDonald’s. Young Indian patrons are attracted to Western fast food because it is tasty and cheap, though their elders advise it is unhealthy. Not surprisingly, McDonald’s is gung-ho about India. It plans to increase its outlets in India from 200 to about 1,000 in five more years.

Localized Junk Food
Yum! Restaurants, owner of the popular KFC and Pizza Hut chains, plans to open 100 outlets in India this year. By 2015, it too plans to operate 1,000 restaurants in the nation. The attractions of these restaurants are that they are fashionable, clean, hygienic and provide quick service. In India, advertising has boosted the image and profile of Western fast food which has been localized to suit Indian tastes.

Advertising Makes KFC Popular
For example, eating beef is frowned upon by Hindus. So, chicken is the most popular meat in burgers and other dishes. KFC India says it is targeting young adults below 30, including teenagers. Western fast food restaurants are becoming more high profile thanks to television advertising. The Facebook page of KFC India is popular with many people inquiring when it would open an outlet in their city.

India is Eldorado
KFC is aware of this latent demand and says that it is an aspirational brand even in small Indian towns. Therefore, fast-food chains see India as an Eldorado. The market is wide and large, and growing at a fast pace. But, fast food, which is high in sugar and fat, raises worries that Indians may be importing obesity from Western shores.

Children are Becoming Obese
In India, greater than 50% of children suffer from malnutrition, says the Lancet journal. But, the middle class is over-fed and growing large both in numbers and waist size. A 2010 study revealed that 33% of children studying in New Delhi’s private schools were obese, compared to 10% in government schools. Indians are also consuming more fat per individual compared to the 1970s.

Junk Food and Sedentary Lifestyle
Researchers say obesity is a growing concern in India. Children are lured by glittery junk food ads and think eating at Western fast food restaurants symbolizes high status. The Asian Development Bank warns that diseases like diabetes, heart ailments and cancer caused by high-sugar and high-fat diets will become rampant in Asia. The urban middle class is also becoming sedentary, ignoring physical activity.

Malnutrition and Obesity
Last month, the Red Cross pointed out it is a social and health scandal that in countries like India widespread malnutrition co-exists with growing obesity.

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