China’s increasing size

Posted by Martyn

Shenzhen Ren has a great post regarding obesity in both America and, increasingly, China. He also smashes a few myths along the way in ‘Nature, Nurture and Fat’:

I’ve heard analyses for I don’t know how long, on cultural differences and obesity. America is one of the most overweight countries on earth, maybe the most. It’s been attributed to gluttony, sloth, and all sorts of sinful attributes.


A lot of this piffle comes from people who have more eagerness to pontificate than to pay close attention. Before getting into complex moral analyses, why not look at some very simple facts first.

The rest of the post is essential reading. Obesity comes soon after a population has access to cheap and plentiful food, especially of the high-fat, high sugar variety. Also, lack of exercise, car ownership, watching TV, sitting in front of a computer, playing electronic games etc. all contribute to the problem.

More than 60% of US adults are overweight or obese. The figure is 30% in China. Obesity is especially prevalent among Chinese children, particularly urban middle-class children. Some commentators argue that the One-Child Policy has produced a nation of doting parents and grandparents indulging their little prince’s/princess’s every whim, which normally includes McDonalds and KFC.

The Discussion: 17 Comments

I hear about how obese the average Yank is, but for my money the ones that tip the scales are from Northern Ireland. I couldn’t believe it when I returned in July just how big they were, and you could clearly see it reflect the socio-economic divide. But then I scared the hell out of my girlfriend as I indulged in an Ulster breakfast every day- fried eggs, fried bacon, fried farls, soda bread, beans, bangers, fried mushrooms, black pudding…..
Had to take a nap rght after.

September 19, 2005 @ 4:33 pm | Comment

Ah yes, a good Ulster breakfast does set you up for the day, it does that.

Mind you Kier, I find that when you live in China for a period, you get used to seeing thin people so when you go back home it’s a bit of a shock to the system.

I had a similar experience going straight from China to Puerto Rico last year. Those people are big.

September 19, 2005 @ 4:42 pm | Comment

thankfully i avoided any shock going home, because i am already fat enough (chinese beer’ll do that to you). i felt like i was looking in a really big mirror!

September 19, 2005 @ 8:10 pm | Comment

But I get a feeling that in a few years I’ll feel just right at home here in China with my potbelly. They’re really startin’ to pack on the pounds

September 19, 2005 @ 8:11 pm | Comment

I write alot about health issues on my site. Also as a parent i am concerned about the lack of exercise my son gets in China. Has anyone seen any initiatives that China is taking that will cut obesity in their children. My son plays in a soccer league but most of his team mates are foreign. I noticed that california cut out soft-drinks from their schools.

September 19, 2005 @ 8:54 pm | Comment

Good gracious Keir, you are not eating all that for breakfast surely. They’ll kill you.

For some reasons, the concept of “healthy equals to fat” is very common among older generation Chinese people. The portrait of a happy fat little boy playing with a carp is considered an auspicious sign, good enough for a New Year poster display. Now that all families in the cities are only allowed to have one child, parents and grandparents can really indulge in their dream of nurturing a nation of fat little emperors.

September 19, 2005 @ 9:05 pm | Comment

It’s not only the fat people who are shocking when you go back “west”. Have you ever noticed?–their noses precede them into the room!

Thanks for the link. I’m about to link back to your most recent oil-price post.

September 19, 2005 @ 10:16 pm | Comment

Fat Cat-
I have done, and I have photographic evidence to prove it.

September 19, 2005 @ 10:28 pm | Comment

Nice post on Shenzhen Ren, I must admit that I’d never heard of the site. Myself and Mr. Shenzhen Ren are also politically compatible.

I wish I’d seen the site earlier so that I could have listened to the Hitchins-Gallaway debate too.

September 20, 2005 @ 2:17 am | Comment

Re the issue of China’s increasing waistline, another point to bear in mind is that with obesity comes heart problems, diabetes and a whole host of other diseases.

From what I’ve read on this site and others, I hardly think China’s healthcare system is adequate to cope with the current/future spate of fat-related diseases.

September 20, 2005 @ 2:51 am | Comment

Yes, that’s a good point Daniel. Wherever obesity goes goes, health problems soon follow.

There’s a good thread goign on over at Shenzhen Ren as well. Sam made the point that in China, rich people are ususally a little on the fat side. However, in America it’s normally the opposite.

Also, as much as I have heard, poorer Americans tend to consume far more fast food.

Another contradiction:

In China, stuff like KFC is relatively expensive, perhaps 2-3 times more expensive than a local meal. It’s also seen as a premium food. The oppposite is of course true in the West.

September 20, 2005 @ 7:08 am | Comment

I’m not a big eater, I have the appetite of a mouse – especially since I’ve lived here. Like a lot of long-term expats I know, I went off the local food years ago.

There’s a real eating and food culture here in China. I’ve seen business meetings that could have ended with only another 20 or so minutes of talking broken up so the Chinese side could go off and eat lunch. Leaving the foreigners exasperated.

A lot of people here seem to stop functioning after 12pm if they don’t eat. I’ve never seen anything like it, especially after working in the UK where lunch is usually just a quick sandwich in passing.

For years, my Chinese colleages have looked aghast when I’ve told them that I never eat breakfast. It’s simply not done here. 3 sit-down square meals a day and each one means eating till you’re full is normal.

Another oddity, I’ve seen colleagues wolf down an entire rice box only to declare that it tasted disgusting. When I asked why they ate it, they look puzzled and say that everyone must eat till they are full 3 times per day.

Another thing, China has seen its fair share of famines. As a likely consequence of this, many Chinese people have a ‘don’t waste food ‘ and a ‘eat as much as you can’ mentality.

If friends or colleages have a guest, then they’ll inevitably invite them to eat – not go for a beer like the West. In addition, they will badger the guest to stuff as much food into their mouths as is physically possible.

I think that the obsession with food and mealtimes as well as the tendency for all social and business meetings to involve lots of food perhaps will be a large factor in contributing to China’s obesity problem.

September 20, 2005 @ 8:00 am | Comment

“business meetings that could have ended with only another 20 or so minutes of talking broken up so the Chinese side could go off and eat lunch”

Sounds like France. Except that the French, for all their obsession with ruinously fattening food, somehow manage to remain slim. Or at least the rate of obesity in France is lower than in many other Western countries.

It’s sometimes tempting to think of obesity following a bell curve. Really poor people are thin, because they can’t afford food at all; then, as people lift themselves out of poverty, they become enamored with low-nutrition, high-fat foods. This phenomenon is on ample display in poor areas of the U.S. Then, when people become rich enough that they stop associating girth with wealth, they start exercising, dieting, and generally watching their weight. You don’t see very many fatties in Beverly Hills.

But the French example seems to contradict this idea. France is not an especially wealthy country, at least compared to the U.S. or Britain, yet its people are, on the whole, thinner. (And not because they’re malnourished, either!)

September 20, 2005 @ 11:18 am | Comment

Daniel- Saw the Galloway-Hitchens debate over the weekend- I downloaded it from some site (maybe Guardian) so just look in google search. It was 2 hours long (until they saw it was running out of steam) and pretty entertaining. I was afraid it would be mostly argumentum ad hominem, which it was, but it was also an enjoyable spectacle.

September 20, 2005 @ 4:58 pm | Comment

Oh how timely! I just saw “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. Next time anyone remakes that movie, they can cast a Chinese actor as Augustus Gloop (the fat boy who gets sucked into the chocolate machine) and the Chinese Oompa-Loompas (faces made up like Beijing Opera) can turn him into a mooncake.

September 20, 2005 @ 9:10 pm | Comment

Yes Vaara, the French is a very good example to demonstrate that good food and good wine do not necessarily lead to obesity. It is the ingredients that we use in cooking, the way that we prepare our food and the size of the portions served that really count. Of course a sluggish lifestyle wouldn’t help either. Mind you, some people from rural farming areas in China also eat a lot. But most of them somehow managed to stay slim.

September 20, 2005 @ 9:17 pm | Comment

Kier, the Guardian you say? That’s great, I really appreciate you taking the time to pass that information on. Thank you very much.

September 21, 2005 @ 2:28 pm | Comment

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