Editor’s note: Economic development has changed people’s dietary habits, with higher consumption of high-fat and high-sugar foods resulting in an increase in overweight and obese children. A veteran reporter with China Daily discusses how to deal with this modern threat.
Obesity was considered foreign to the Chinese people. Some of us who were overweight when I was young were made fun of and sometimes envied. For many of us, obesity was a problem of developed countries.
Backing up this claim, 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 said that each year, 1.2 million deaths in Europe are caused by diseases related to obesity or a high body mass index (BMI).
Unfortunately, the Chinese people are fast catching up with the developed world in terms of obesity and high BMI. The Dietary Guidelines for Chinese Residents 2022, released by the Chinese Nutrition Association in April, reported that 50.7 percent of Chinese adults are now overweight with 16.4 percent obese.
To make matters worse, 19 percent of schoolchildren between the ages of 6 and 17 are considered overweight or obese, while the rate for preschoolers is 10.4 percent. Unhealthy diets and lack of physical exercise are traditional causes of high BMI, the COVID-19 pandemic that locked people in their homes for weeks or months at a time is being cited as a new cause of obesity growth, because an increasing number of people rely or used to rely on takeout from restaurants, many of which serve rich and fatty food.
No wonder “you look thinner” has become 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 exercise must pay a high price to lower their BMI. I have a new friend who had to have a third of his stomach removed to prevent him from eating food. He lost 30 kilograms, but paid a high price for it, both in terms of money and health.
Some 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 slimming tea that makes people lose their appetite or have periods of runny stomach.
Many more people visit slimming centers that offer traditional Chinese medical solutions for obesity, such as massage, acupuncture, moxibustion and medicinal baths, leading to a boom in the slimming service sector over the past decade. Data shows that by the end of 2019, China had more than 40,000 weight loss centers and clinics.
What worries educators and parents most is the continued rise in obesity among school children — increasing by about 1 percent a year over the past decade or so. And if this trend is not reversed, the health of future generations will be in trouble.
Since some of the body slimming therapies 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 in today’s society is easier. said than done.
School students in China are burdened by a difficult curriculum. It used to be normal for children to go to school at 7:30 am and return home around 9:00 pm. And although their classroom routines included a number of physical education classes each week and they were required to do physical exercise for at least an hour a day at school, students and teachers at almost every school seemed to have reached an unwritten agreement – that they are too busy with academic work to have time for physical exercise.
To ensure that children spend more time playing sports or doing physical exercise, central education authorities have taken many measures, including limiting school hours, making physical education classes compulsory, reducing homework and simplifying after-school training courses.
When such measures failed to produce effective results, the authorities increased the value of PE scores for progression from primary school to secondary school, to senior secondary school and to the national college entrance examination.
The new measures appear to be working, as increasing numbers of pupils can be seen playing sports in community parks after school to boost their PE results. Hopefully obesity will have little to do with the Chinese people in the long run.
The author is the former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily. [email protected]