Editor’s note: Economic development has changed people’s dietary habits, with higher intakes of high-fat, high-sugar foods leading to an increase in overweight and obese children. A veteran journalist from China Daily discusses how to deal with this modern threat.
Obesity was considered foreign to the Chinese. Those of us who were underweight used to be the butt of jokes, and sometimes the envy, when I was young. For most of us, obesity was a problem of developed countries.
Attesting to this contention, a recent World Health Organization report said 59 percent of Europeans are overweight or obese, with obesity rates as high as 25 percent, second only to the United States. The report also states that 12.2 million deaths in Europe each year are due to diseases related to obesity or high body mass index (BMI).
Unfortunately, Chinese people are rapidly catching up with the developed world in terms of obesity and high BMI. The Dietary Guidelines for Chinese Residents 2022, released in April by the Chinese Nutrition Society, reported that 50.7 percent of Chinese adults are now overweight and 16.4 percent of them are obese.
To make matters worse, 19 percent of school children between the ages of 6 and 17 are considered overweight or obese while the rate for preschool children is 10.4 percent. While unhealthy diets and lack of physical exercise are traditional causes of high BMI, the Covid-19 pandemic, which keeps people confined to their homes for weeks or months at a time, has been cited as a new cause of rising obesity, as increasing numbers of people rely on Rely on takeouts from restaurants, many of which serve rich, greasy foods.
No wonder “you look thin” is the highest compliment a person can receive when meeting others, and “how to lose weight fast?” The most common question.
Those who fail to control their appetite or hate physical exercise pay a high price for reducing their BMI. I have a young friend who had to have a third of his stomach removed to prevent food poisoning. He lost 30 kilograms, but paid a high price for it, both in terms of money and health.
Others prefer to play it safe: They ask doctors to remove fat from their stomachs, hips and thighs. Those who fear the scalpel can try a beauty-slimming tea that makes people lose their appetite or have upset stomachs.
Many people visit body slimming centers that offer traditional Chinese medicine solutions for obesity such as massage, acupuncture, moxibustion and medicinal baths, leading to a boom in the body-slimming service sector in the past decade. Statistics show that by the end of 2019, there were more than 40,000 weight loss centers and clinics in China.
What worries teachers and parents the most is the continued rise in obesity among school children — rising at a rate of about 1 percent over the past decade or so. And if this trend is not reversed, the health of future generations will suffer.
While some of the body-slimming treatments for adults can be applied to children, the only possible way to prevent children from becoming overweight or obese is to encourage them to play outdoor sports and/or do more physical exercise, which is easy in today’s society. Said than done.
School students in China are burdened with a difficult curriculum. It was common for children to go to school at 7:30 in the morning and return home at 9 at night. And although their classroom routine included physical education classes every week and they were required to do at least one hour of physical exercise a day at school, students and teachers seemed to have an unwritten agreement in almost every school. Too busy with academic work to find time for physical exercise.
To ensure that children spend more time in sports or physical exercise, central education authorities have taken a number of measures, such as limiting school hours, making PE classes compulsory, reducing homework and streamlining after-school training courses.
When such measures failed to produce effective results, authorities increased the value of PE scores for promotion from elementary school to middle school, to high school, and to national college entrance exams.
The new measures seem to be working, as an increasing number of students can be seen playing sports in community parks after school to boost their PE scores. Hopefully, obesity will have little to do with the Chinese public in the long run.
The writer is a former deputy editor of China Daily. [email protected]