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In Goa, western India
In Goa, western India
Jasvinder Seghal

JAIPUR — India is emerging as one of the fastest-growing centers in the global market for weight loss surgery. Two-thirds of wealthy urban Indians are now overweight.

Like 56-year-old Chander Kataria and 65-year-old Mohan Gulati. Chander weighs 85 kilos (187 pounds) while Mohan is over 120 kilos (264 pounds). They are both trying desperately to lose weight, and one of their efforts is a morning walk around the Bhagat Singh Garden in Jaipur.

“I try to exercise, shake and vibrate every organ of my body, but it’s not working,” says Chander.

Mohan has tried many ways to lose weight, including diets and working out at a gym. “This is my eighth lap on the bike. I have done so much but nothing has helped. I think surgery is now the only option.”

Rana Kumar is his gym coach, and he says Mohan is typical of his clients. “The cause of growing obesity is people’s sedentary lifestyles,” Rana says. “People sitting around and not doing enough exercise and eating junk food. We advise them to do exercise and control their diet. If that doesn’t work, we suggest surgery.”

In fact, a quarter of wealthy urban Indians are now obese, and the problem of obesity is increasing rapidly among urban school children — so there is now a lot of money to be made in weight loss surgery.

Dr. Akhilesh Sharma, owner of Abhishek Cosmetic Surgery Center, says business is booming. “I do around one or two liposuctions every week, and the patients come from all walks of life. They may be literate, semi-literate, or from a very high class ... but their aim is to get slim.”

The operation costs about $1,000. And it’s estimated that some 10,000 similar surgeries will be performed across India each year. It seems counterintuitive, as India is regarded as the hunger capital of the world: One fourth of the population doesn’t have enough to eat.

Shyamvati Devi sends her children to school not so that they can get an education, but so they have at least one meal a day. “The children enjoy the free food,” she says. “I have four children but keep only these two daughters with me, as I am very poor. I have lost my husband and I don’t have a job. The other two live at my relatives’ place, as I am unable to feed them.”

In the same city, Chandra and the urban elite have become addicted to fast food. India’s growing economy has attracted many international food joints, and the diets of urban Indians have changed as a result.

Chander’s sister, 43-year-old Preeti Gupta, also says she is planning to have surgery. “I want to lose weight to be fit. I don’t want to have knee pain or heel pain at this early age. So I really want to lose weight for that.”

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