From Famine to Flab – China’s Growing Obesity Problem

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In days gone by, when food was scare, the old Chinese saying “a fat child is a healthy child” may have been true, but nowadays flabby kids in China are just plain unhealthy.

Famines have long been prevalent in China’s history. Supplying a nation of a billion people with sufficient food resources has always been a major governmental concern. In fact, as recently as 1959~1961, some 20 million Chinese people died of starvation.

Imagine the shock, then, in 2002 when Chinese leaders learned of their growing obesity problem. According to the country’s first official nutrition and health survey, in just ten years, while malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies had dropped, more than 60 million people had become obese—a whopping 97% increase.

The report indicated that the problem was especially apparent in cities, where 12% of adults and 8% of children were identified as obese, compared to 5% nationwide. What’s more, another 200 million people, or 22.8% of the 2002 population, were classified as overweight.

Causes cited were a decrease in exercise as cars became more prevalent; an increase in calorie intake as meats, oils, fats and dairy products became more plentiful; and sheer over-feeding of children by parents making up for being fed inadequately when they were young.


What was bad news then has become worse news now. Figures released in 2010 showed that China’s obese population is still growing at a rate of 30% to 50% each year. If this continues unchecked, by 2028 roughly half the entire population will be overweight or obese.

The blame is easy to place: the rise of “fast food” outlets; processed foods replacing whole, natural food; sedentary lifestyles requiring less physical labor; reductions in travel on foot and by bicycle; and so on. The cure is not so easy to effect: psychological counseling; “fat farms” for children; building more parks and playgrounds for exercise; and disseminating dietary information, among others.

One Chinese pediatrician says there is only one true solution: “Obese people should control their diet and… exercise.” He advises, “A healthy lifestyle will always be the best way to solve weight problems.

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Lex Cavemen

LEX is the scientist. He is obsessed with understanding why and how the world around him works the way it does.

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