Trim Corporate Fat With Mumbai's Low Fat Meals

by Hannah Punitha on Nov 3 2008 7:17 PM

Trim Corporate Fat With Mumbai
Working long hours and eating takeaway food in his office, Cyrus Driver was like many Indian executives who struggle to eat healthily or take enough exercise.
But he came up with an innovative solution to fight the flab, setting up a company providing low-fat, calorie-counted food via the efficient daily delivery service provided by Mumbai's famous "dabbawallahs" or tiffin carriers.

Now he hopes that the firm, Calorie Care, can help urban, educated Indian professionals watch their weight as many of the middle and upper classes grow fat on the country's recent economic prosperity.

"I was like a lot of people working in the financial services. I found it very difficult to keep in shape. I tried to work out and eat right," the former private equity investor told AFP.

"But one big gap I saw was that the office eating options were all extremely unhealthy. There was a lack of service that could provide a meal that was healthy."

His firm now delivers customised meals in steel tiffins or lunchboxes, using their own team or some of the 5,000 or so dabbawallahs who criss-cross the city daily carrying home-cooked food to hungry workers.

But the breakfasts, lunches and dinners created by a team of nutritionists do not contain the high levels of salt, oil, sugar and butter found in many Indian meals.

"Most successful executives work long hours with almost no exercise. And Indian restaurants think that good food is rich food with a lot of butter, oil and cheese. We take the opposite view," he said.

Since the first meal was delivered in September 2005, the business has been built up by word of mouth and now employs 55 people, keeping track of orders and dietary requirements by computer.

Next year Driver hopes to provide the same service to executives in India's IT hub Bangalore.

According to the Nutrition Foundation of India (NFI), 50 percent of women and 32 percent of men in India's middle and upper classes are obese, with the problem particularly acute among the over-40s.

That compares with four percent and one percent respectively among slum dwellers.

And according to the International Diabetes Foundation umbrella group, India had 40.9 million diabetics in 2007 -- the highest number in the world.

The World Health Organisation estimated in 2005 that deaths from conditions associated with obesity such as diabetes, heart disease and strokes cost the Indian economy 330 billion dollars a year in lost productivity.

As private gyms, slimming clinics and diet food become a regular sight in Indian cities, Driver sees his firm as part of a wider trend towards healthy living to combat the effects of a more Westernised, sedentary lifestyle.

But he readily admitted that the main challenge in India is still people not having enough to eat.

The World Food Programme estimates that nearly 50 percent of the world's hungry live in India. More than half of all children under five are considered moderately or severely malnourished.

Meanwhile 350 million people -- just over a third of the population -- are said to be "food-insecure," consuming less than 80 percent of their minimum energy requirements.

"In the US obesity rates are higher among the lower-income population. In India it's the opposite," Driver said.

"It's because of malnutrition, not because the lower income (group) is more health conscious."


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