August 18, 2006

Nearly 1 in 5 Chinese Overweight or Obese: Study

HONG KONG -- Nearly one in every five people in China are overweight or obese and the problem is getting worse among children, especially boys, according to a study.

The study, to be published in the August 19 issue of the British Medical Journal, found that 10 million children from the ages of 7 to 18 were overweight in 2000, up 28 times from 1985.

Four million children were obese in that same age group in 2000, four times more than in 1985.

"China was once considered to have one of the leanest populations, but it is fast catching up with the West in terms of the prevalence of overweight and obesity; disturbingly, this transition has occurred in a remarkably short time," it said.

The report comes as doctors in the United States, writing in Friday's Lancet medical journal, say the Body Mass Index, the standard measure of obesity, is badly flawed and a more accurate gauge should be developed.

Nationwide, 215 million people out of a total population of 1.3 billion were found to be either overweight or obese in a national survey in 2002, based on definitions given by the World Health Organization.

However, the author of the report, Yangfeng Wu of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Beijing, thought the figure should be higher because the WHO definitions were designed for Caucasian populations.

According to stricter measurements given by the Working Group on Obesity in China, about 281 million people in China would be regarded as either overweight or obese, he said.

The study also blamed China's bulging waistline on changes in the traditional diet, reduced levels of physical activity and increased sedentary lifestyles that are fueled by the sharp rise in the use of motor vehicles.

Wu wrote that China's obesity epidemic might be rooted in lax social attitudes toward body fat.

"In Chinese culture, there is still a widespread belief that excess body fat represents health and prosperity," Wu said.

"This is perhaps a consequence of China's recent history, where famine and chronic malnutrition caused the deaths of millions of people in the 1950s."