By CESAR CHELALA
SPECIAL TO CHIN
Obesity is rapidly becoming a serious public health problem in China, particularly among children and adolescents. According to Chinese Health Ministry data, boys aged 6 years are taller and heavier on average now than 30 years ago.
Because obesity can have serious consequences on children’s health and quality of life, as well as on the country’s economy, this is a problem that demands urgent attention. Doctors have warned that obesity could become China’s biggest public health problem in the future.
China and many other developing countries have to bear a “double burden” – widespread under-nutrition, particularly among children in rural areas, and a rapid increase in overweight, obesity and related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, type II diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. Obesity and its complications cost the government several billion yuan a year.
The increase in obesity among the younger population is partly down to improving living standards, particularly in the main cities, which offer a smorgasbord of fast food high in fat and sugar from chains likeMcDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks. At the same time, there has been a decrease in the consumption of cereals, fruits and vegetables.
In addition, the population as a whole is becoming less active, with reduced levels of walking and cycling and increased use of cars. Studies carried out in 2002 and 2012 have shown a direct correlation between rising ownership of motorised transport and increasing levels of obesity.
Another reason for decreased levels of physical activity is the increased use of computers, mobile phones and long hours of watching TV. Many cities lack adequate space for physical activities and there are insufficient sports programmes in schools. As a result, there is an imbalance between calories consumed and calories burnt.
Experts have indicated the special role that grandparents have in children’s obesity. China’s one-child policy has created a land of “little emperors” doted upon by their grandparents. Since in many families both husbands and wives work, they leave their children in the care of the grandparents, particularly in rural areas. Traditionally, Chinese people have shown their affection through food. In many cases grandparents have personal experience of food scarcity or even famine, and they believe that by feeding plenty of calorie-rich foods to their grandchildren they are fulfilling their responsibilities. One study found that children who live with their grandparents eat two additional servings of junk food each week.
Solving the problem of child obesity demands a comprehensive strategy that should include educational, social, media and government policy actions. At the educational level, it is necessary to change school curricula to promote healthy eating and exercising habits, which are crucial to improve students’ health.