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Obese come to China to take jab at weight problem
( 2003-08-22 14:05) (Agencies)

The macho workout motto conjures images of sweat and brawn but the regime is somewhat pricklier at the Aimin Fat Reduction Hospital in northern China, where the chronically obese from Europe to Oceania come to poke away pounds with acupuncture.
"Ah, ahhh, okay, okay, okay!" yelps Singaporean Zaidah Abu with a snigger, as a Chinese acupuncturist wiggles a three-inch needle into her fleshy arm.

Chinese doctors insert acupuncture needles into an overweight patient at the Aimin Acupuncture Weight Loss Hospital in Tianjin, 120 km southeast of Beijing, August 19, 2003. The hospital in northern China specialises in weight loss by means of acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, regular exercise and a strictly controlled diet. More than 20 percent of Chinese adults and about 1.7 billion of the planet's six billion people are overweight, according to the International Obesity Task Force. The World Health Organisation has declared obesity a global epidemic. Photo taken August 19. [REUTERS]
Abu has posed for the Tianjin-based weight loss clinic's advertisements this summer and, if you believe the ads, is the latest proof the ancient medical practice nets results.

She tipped the scales at 330 lb when she checked in four and a half months ago but has dropped 60 kg since. In exchange for her "before and after" shots, Aimin waived the fee of around 4,000 yuan ($480) a month customers pay for treatment, room and board.

Aimin workout sessions look almost effortless: acupuncture in the morning and light dance aerobics in the afternoon, interspersed with well-balanced meals and counselling.

But since the late 1990s, the clinic has been a leading brand in an upstart industry popularizing Chinese medicine as a shortcut to slim down.

Chinese medical theory traditionally holds that overweight people have imbalanced digestive systems. And in the past two decades, the ranks of the imbalanced have swelled with the country's booming economy.

As fat cats gorge on dozen-course banquets and their children munch on Kentucky Fried Chicken, entrepreneurial apothecaries are concocting diet teas and tonics to help Chinese fight the battle of the bulge.

Some clinical studies have discounted the role of acupressure, acupuncture and reflexology in weight loss while doctors and dieticians in the West have condemned sham practitioners of hokum, "new age" treatments.

But Shi Lidong, director of the hospital, said hitting the right pressure points can help redress the body's imbalance by stimulating the metabolism and curbing the appetite.

"First, it effectively controls the desire for food and reduces hunger. Second, it reduces the digestive system's ability to absorb food," he said. "At the same time it also speeds up the digestive system's ability to break down fat."

The former military hospital's most celebrated case was a 23-year-old Chinese man who cut his weight from 215 kg in June 2000 to 90 kg by September 2001.

Aimin, which means "love the people," has 260 beds and treats around 200 foreign customers a year from places like Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Switzerland.

The clinic has also opened branches in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

But many journey to the former British concession of Tianjin to visit the original gurus.

Italian Luigi Fadda started treatment in Thailand and since coming to Tianjin has lost five kg in two weeks. He said he had grown so fat he could not sleep lying down and had to sit up through the night.

"When you start to put on weight, all of the body starts to grow and suddenly you cannot breathe. In my case, my chest started to be so fat it was touching my system for breathing," he said, fingering his throat.

Besides a momentary prick and a little soreness, patients like Mr Smith from Scotland say the treatment doesn't hurt much at all.

"I think if it is explained to a lot more people that acupuncture is totally harmless, it's of great benefit," said the man, his ear riddled with plaster-covered puncture points. He had lost four kg in two weeks.

"Unfortunately, our Western culture depicts needles as painful."

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