Obesity is the excessive accumulation of fat that can impair health and lead to the diagnosis of chronic illness. Diet and exercise are the two main strategies to help prevent obesity. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, mitigation measures such as strict lockdowns, social distancing, and business closures have led to a significant decrease in physical activity. This physical inactivity has led to a rise in obesity, and subsequently a rise in chronic illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes (T2D) and endometrial cancer. In India, where a high prevalence of chronic diseases already exists, GlobalData epidemiologists expect that the number of diagnosed prevalent cases of T2D and diagnosed incident cases of endometrial cancer will likely continue to rise over the next 5–10 years.

A recent study by Podder and colleagues, published in Annals of Neurosciences, analyzed data from a multi-center cluster sampled trial that collected findings from 60 Indian districts during 2017; using this data, Podder and colleagues aimed to investigate physical activity levels and diabetes risk among the 233,805 Indian adults included in the study. Physical activity levels were evaluated based on the following categories: vigorous exercise, moderate exercise, mild exercise, and no exercise. Study results found that 20% of the population were inactive, while 37% were mildly active. The World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommends a daily minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity; the findings from this study are therefore concerning, as they reveal that 57% of the Indian population have failed to comply with these WHO recommendations. This inactivity has been linked to increased rates of obesity, and subsequently increased rates of chronic illnesses.

A 2020 study by Khan and colleagues, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health, reported that evidence from the Global Burden of Disease database suggested that 6.28% of the world’s population had T2D in 2017; India was said to be one of the countries with the greatest burden of the disease. GlobalData epidemiologists forecast over 75.26 million diagnosed prevalent cases of type 2 diabetes and 26,000 diagnosed incident cases of endometrial cancer in India in 2021, which are expected to increase to 91.72 million and 32,000 cases, respectively, by 2028 (as shown in Figures 1 and 2). However, with the impact of COVID-19 and subsequent reduction in physical activity, GlobalData epidemiologists expect that diagnosed prevalent cases of T2D and diagnosed incident cases of endometrial cancer will likely surpass current forecast estimates.

The worldwide increase of chronic illnesses, such as T2D and endometrial cancer, has a fundamental effect on global health services. As a result, it is likely that India’s healthcare system may become overwhelmed due to the increasing number of patients with chronic illnesses exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Podder and colleagues suggest that these chronic illnesses can be prevented and treated with regular physical activity. Although the National Health Portal of India has published guidelines regarding recommended hours of exercise, which align with the WHO guidelines, it is important that Indian citizens are actively encouraged to increase the amount of exercise they do, especially during COVID-19 lockdowns; this will help prevent the rise in obesity and other chronic illnesses within the population and ultimately reduce the strain on health services nationally.