With an increasingly prevalent market, a fast-growing economy, rising incomes and rapid urbanisation, China has become more and more modernised in the past decades, but this modernisation has come at a price - obesity issues. While the Chinese population has doubled its life span with a developed public health program, now Chinese people are suffer from diseases that are more common in wealthier nations which are not caused by malnutrition as in starvation but by overconsumption of unhealthy foods and lack of exercise.
While the US keeps topping obesity charts worldwide, China is not falling far behind as Chinese children follow the same unhealthy American habits - junk food, sodas and couch potatoes lifestyles. “China has entered the era of obesity. The speed of growth is shocking,” stated a leading child-health researcher, Ji Chengye.
Indeed, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), obesity is a major health concern. While overall rates of obesity are below 5 percent in the country, in some cities these rates are higher than 20 percent.
Obesity in the Asian country is mostly prevalent in urbanised cities where fast food culture has been embraced by the society and globalisation has taken over, in contrast with poorer rural areas.
As the McDonalisation of the global society becomes more clear and China becomes more modernised, rising incomes, rapid urbanisation and cities dotted with fast food establishments - such as McDonald's (MCD), Pizza Hut (YUM), and KFC (YUM) - growing obesity among Chinese children is becoming a relevant problem in the country. Even an expert at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Chen Chunming, has warned against the rapid growth of American fast-food outlets in China. He advises: “Don't take children to eat fast food like McDonald's and KFC.”
In fact, more than half of Chinese children eat unhealthy food - including overly sweet and salt snacks as well as fried meals - every day, according to a survey of 10,000 students in 24 schools in six Chinese cities. Meanwhile, a quarter of primary school pupils and 16 percent of middle schoolers sip sugary beverages on a daily basis.
The kids' unhealthy eating habits are accompanied by a lack of exercise. According to the survey, about two-thirds of the students get less than an hour of exercise a day. Then, when it comes to exercising outdoors on the weekends, only 40 percent of primary pupils and one-fifth of middle school students engage in these kind of activities.
Moreover, thanks to a rapid motorisation, people are walking and cycling much more less than before. According to reports in 2002 and 2012, there is a correlation between ownership of motorised transport by households in China and higher obesity related problems in children as well as adults.
According to a recent report by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
, China is undergoing a fast rise in childhood obesity. In fact twenty-three percent of Chinese males younger than 20 are overweight or obese, while 14 perfect of their female counterparts suffer from the same condition. In contrast, back in 1990, the corresponding rate for Chinese male and female rate was less than 10 percent.
China's current rates are still below those in the U.S. (almost 30 percent for young males and females), they are above than those in Japan, South Korea and India.
According to the authorities, specifically Wang Longde, the Chinese vice health minister, the problem is that the population lacks awareness of the problem and knowledge in terms of what constitutes a healthy diet.
Therefore, as a response, the government aims at reducing the problem by building more playgrounds and making it mandatory for students to exercise or play sports for an hour at school.