Obesity Explosion May Weigh on China's Future

August 8, 2006

During the summer school break, some parents in China's booming financial capital bundled their kids off to the Shanghai Physical Education Institute.

The four-week weight-loss camp, which opened in July, costs about a thousand dollars (U.S.) per child.

Rare in China just a few years ago, similar camps have sprouted in Beijing, Qingdao, Shenzhen, and other cities.

The reason: China is getting fat.

Today about 15 percent of adults, or 200 million Chinese, are reportedly overweight.

Of these, 90 million—about 7 percent—are obese (though China uses a slightly lower threshold for both designations than the UN's World Health Organization does).

By contrast, 30 percent of U.S. adults are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (photo gallery: "Heavy Cost of Fat").

Experts say the obesity epidemic is spreading to children, albeit more slowly than in adults. The trend, they say, will have a huge impact on the health of China's citizens and economy.

"We're seeing a very large proportion of children and adolescents who are quite heavy and aren't moving much," said Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Popkin collaborates on an ongoing health-and-nutrition survey of 16,000 households in China. He says more kids today are overeating and putting on weight "quite quickly."

In just ten years China's childhood obesity rate has doubled, with the greatest gains coming in urban areas.

Official figures suggest that, on average, 8.1 percent of kids in urban areas are obese, compared to 3.1 percent in rural areas.

Continued on Next Page >>


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