China has the world’s highest number of obese children, according to a recent global study which has once again exposed an alarming and growing trend among China’s youth.
The Global Burden of Disease report, led by a team from the University of Washington in Seattle, examined obesity in 195 countries between 1980 and 2015, finding a rise in obesity rates in middle-income countries. The study, published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, discovered that China was home to 15 million obese children in 2015, more than any other country in the world. India came in second with 14 million obese children.
According to the Financial Times, in the decades that China was fighting its way out of extreme poverty, obesity became linked to increased wealth. But now, just like in many Western countries, that trend has shifted with poor people in urban areas most likely to be affected.
China has about 57 million obese adults, roughly 12% of the country’s adult population, according to the study. That’s the second-highest number in the world, trailing only the United States, home to 79 million obese adults (and only one-fourth of China’s population).
But the most troubling victims of China’s ongoing obesity epidemic are children.
According to the SCMP, Ma Guansheng, a nutrition professor at Peking University, said in a report last year that behavior patterns and environmental factors are to blame for a decline in children’s health in China. Fewer children are cycling or walking to school, Ma said, and increased academic pressure means that kids spend more time studying and less time playing outside.
Another study last year blamed China’s rising childhood obesity rate on an influx of Western junk food. Researchers found this to be at least partially true: eating habits and food sources had more to do with childhood obesity than did wealth.
Western fast food chains have become prevalent in China over the past few decades, making high-energy, processed foods more and more accessible and affordable to the masses. The success of these chains could help to explain weight gain in certain populations, both in urban and rural China.
To fight back against this growing epidemic, schools around the country are beginning to encourage healthy behavior, some more effectively than others. Last year, a kindergarten in Shanghai began feeding overweight children a healthier snack of vegetables, while giving underweight children a different snack of eggs, meat and biscuits. The plan quickly became controversial because of the way that it categorized five-year-old kids by their weight.
But at least they are sort of on the right track. Experts believe that healthier school snacks, more public sports facilities and more affordable healthy foods are a few of the most important ways that unhealthy habits can gradually be replaced by healthy ones for China’s children.
By Caroline Roy
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