An increase in noncommunicable disease (NCD) in India has been attributed to an epidemiologic transition whereby, due to urbanization, there is an increase in traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors such as obesity. Accumulated biomarker data on the "Asian Indian phenotype" identify central obesity, which occurs at a lower body mass index (BMI), as a particularly potent risk factor in Asian Indians. A revised WHO case definition for obesity in India [BMI (in kg/m(2)) >25] has identified an obesity epidemic that exceeds 30% in some cities and rivals that in Western nations. This review summarizes 2 key lines of evidence: 1) the emergence of an obesity epidemic in urban and rural India and its contribution to the NCD burden and 2) the role of a "nutrition transition" in decreasing the whole plant food content of diets in India and increasing risk of obesity and NCDs. We then present new epidemiologic evidence from Asian Indians enrolled in the Adventist Health Study 2 that raises the possibility of how specific whole plant foods (eg, nuts) in a vegetarian dietary pattern could potentially prevent obesity and NCDs in a target population of >1 billion persons.
© 2014 American Society for Nutrition.