July 9, 2008

Obesity Problem Is Growing In China

New research says one-quarter of the adult population in China is now considered overweight or obese, and that number could double in the next 20 years.

Researchers published the findings in the journal Health Affairs. They blamed the weight gain on declining rates of physical activity and a diet more similar to their Western counterparts.

If the Chinese government fails to take action soon, the report warns adult obesity rates could double by 2028.

Researchers say the current obesity trend in China could symbolize the future for obesity occurring in the rest of the developing world.

This latest obesity study, led by Professor Barry Popkin, studied 20,000 people across the country and the findings have worrying health implications.

The proportion of overweight and obese residents has grown steadily since China's rapid economic changes started. The report also pointed out that the rates of hypertension and diabetes are also rapidly increasing.

Already about 80 percent of deaths in China are due to non-communicable diseases like heart disease and cancer. Contributing factors can include an unhealthy diet and weight.

The BBC's Asia analyst, Jill McGivering, said obesity has often been linked with China's new affluence and urban, more Westernized lifestyles.

But this survey contradicts that theory, and points out that low-income people in rural areas are now more likely to be overweight compared those on higher incomes in the cities.

That finding replicates the current situation in the developed world, where poverty and obesity are often related. Professor Popkin said that China's traditional balanced diet was frequently giving way to an eating regimen high in oil and meat.

Others blame the obesity outbreak on less exercise: agriculture is more mechanized, and cars, motorbikes and tractors are replacing bicycles. Chinese adults are also watching much more television.

The Chinese government says it is aware of the growing health problems due to a 25 percent rate of adult obesity. But critics say, so far the government has failed to focus on the need to strive for a healthy weight.


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Health Affairs