China / Society

Country sees big spike in kids' weight

By Wang Xiaodong (China Daily) Updated: 2015-04-03 07:31

Too many calories, too little exercise - effects of prosperity - blamed for unhealthy trend

Experts are calling for healthier lifestyles to avoid the risks of obesity, on the heels of a report showing that millions of children in China are overweight.

More than 5.8 million children under age 5 are too heavy, accounting for 7 percent of the total population of the age group, according to a global nutrition report released by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, an international organization that was launched at the United Nations in 2002 to tackle malnutrition.

The report said the number of overweight and obese people in China climbed to 341.9 million in 2013, and both young and old are affected. Rates have seen a rapid rise over the past 30 years, but they are rising faster among the young.

Incidence among those younger than 20 increased more than 200 percent between 1980 and 2013, the report said. Overweight and obesity among women age 20 and older increased 111 percent, and for men age 20 and older the figure was 195 percent, the report said.

Globally, malnutrition exists in both developing countries and developed ones, and its ironic side-effect - overweight and obesity - can trigger severe health problems like diabetes, cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, the report said.

The rapid rise of the condition among young people, in particular, is a result of excessive intake of calories and lack of physical exercise, said Wu Guangchi, a researcher in nutrition studies in the Capital Institute of Pediatrics.

Too much intake of foods that are becoming more diversified and contain more calories - the result of improved living standards - is a major factor in obesity and overweight among the Chinese, he said.

"Cases of overweight and obesity are increasing. Thirty years ago, few people in China suffered such problems," he said. "But now overweight is not only common in developed costal areas but also in many inland cities and rural areas."

Obesity and overweight are linked to a number of serious health problems, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, that cause serious damage to organs such as the heart, brain and liver, he said.

"Surveys have shown obese children have three times the risk of high blood pressure," he said.

According to a report released by the Beijing Physical Examination Center in December, which was based on data collected from 3.2 million people who had physical examinations in the city, overweight is the second-most-common problem for male residents and the third-most common for women. Abnormal levels of cholesterol in the blood was the most common problem for both groups, the report said.

Obesity among adolescents deserves greater attention from society, as it poses serious threat to physical health and has negative psychological impacts, said Qian Wenhong, deputy director of the center.

Lack of exercise is a major contributor, researcher Wu said.

"Schools should provide more opportunities for students to exercise," he said. "But, now, playgrounds at some schools are shrinking or have even vanished because school officials are afraid of taking responsibility for possible injuries caused by physical exercise."

"It is important to improve sporting facilities so more young people can take part in physical activities," he said.

That a balanced diet and regular physical exercise can help those suffering obesity and overweight to gradually lose weight and return to normal has been well established scientifically, he said.

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