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Tuesday, June 8, 1999 Published at 18:38 GMT 19:38 UK


Obesity: China's big issue

Western-style takeaways have taken hold in China

A rising tide of obesity in China means the issue is set to dominate the health agenda in the next century.

The increasing "Westernisation" of the country's diet, coupled with a generation of spoiled only children, is producing a marked increase in clinically overweight citizens.

A national symposium on obesity treatment has estimated that one in 10 Chinese adults and one in five urban schoolchildren are now officially overweight.

Tonics and weight loss creams

In response to the epidemic of obesity, the Chinese government has approved production of 95 weight reduction "tonics", and 20 weight loss creams, soaps and waistbands.

China already has an estimated 70m overweight people, health officials estimate.

And experts have warned that obesity could be the "primary health threat of the 21st century".

A separate study conducted last year showed that urban children in China under the age of six were plumper than their international equivalents, with 20% of Beijing's children being measured as obese.

Economic reforms to blame

To blame, say experts, are the economic reforms introduced by Chinese leader Deny Xiaoping 20 years ago.

These have led to radical changes in the diet of the Chinese, once reliant on healthy fish, rice and vegetables.

In addition, rules banning families from producing more than one child, introduced in an attempt to control China's spiralling population, have created a nation of one child families.

Doting parents and grandparents are overfeeding children, say Chinese health experts.

In Hong Kong, children are also taller and fatter than they used to be.

Plump children are preferred

Dr Henrietta Ip, a paediatrician, told the BBC that parents actually like their children to be plump.

She said: "They don't see it as a problem. That is more worrying.

"Because they are fat when they are little, they grow up into little fat kindergarten children, become fat primary children, and this goes on."

Western-style living is bringing Western diseases such as heart disease to the former colony.

Heart attacks, previously almost unheard of, are now affecting those in their thirties and forties.

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