The Guardian

Beijing, June 20:

China faces an obesity epidemic, a senior academic warned with the release of a report predicting that the world’s most populous nation will have 200 million people who are dangerously overweight within the next 10 years. Rising urban incomes and the adoption of a fattier western diet and couch-potato lifestyle are blamed for the growing bulge in waistlines, which are particularly prominent among the pampered single-child generation. Out of a population of 1.3 billion, China has more than 90 million people whose weight is more than 20 per cent above a level considered healthy, according to the report, which was published in the state-run Information Times. The problem is worst among the young. More than 11 per cent of China’s middle school children are reportedly overweight and the number of obese children is rising at the rate of eight per cent per year. Much of the new fat is building up in wealthy urban centres, such as Shanghai, where the obesity rate among primary school children hit 15.2 per cent last year, according to the state media. The city’s government is so concerned about the health of its increasingly portly bureaucrats that it recently announced a special budget to encourage them to go to sports clubs.

Chen Chaogang, a university doctor in Guangdong province, said the weight increase was a consequence of China’s dramatic economic development and opening up to foreign business.

As well as the adoption of a fast-food culture, McDonalds and KFC outlets have become ubiquitous in many cities, a rising middle class is doing less physical exercise, driving more and spending more time motionless in front of televisions, computers and video games. It is a dramatic change for a country where tens of millions of people starved to death in famines during the 1950s and 60s. Partly for this reason, plumpness has long been seen as a sign of health and wealth. In many parts of the country during the summer, men roll up their shirts to expose their bulging jiangjun du (general’s belly). In poorer areas, however, tens of millions of people are still scrawny and stunted, living on less than a dollar a day. A separate report released over the weekend by the National Bureau of Statistics showed the income gap between the rich and poor widened in the first quarter of the year, with 10 per cent of the country’s richest people enjoying 45 per cent of its wealth. By some measurements, China

is now more inequitable than Europe and the US.