I’m here in BEIJING, CHINA, this week, touring, and learning about the obesity epidemic.
Beijing’s childhood obesity rates are quickly approaching those of the US and other Western countries. Rates have increased 24.4% over the last decade alone. Beijing has the highest rates of childhood obesity in all of China.
Annie Wei wrote this in the newspaper Beijing Today…
“A generation ago, obesity would have been an unimaginable problem; but as the economy has grown, so have children’s waist lines.”
Here are some of the reasons why:
1. POOR DIET (many people eat too much meat and too few vegetables, fruits and fibers);
2. LACK OF EXERCISE and increased sedentary activities such as watching TV or using the computer;
3. POOR SLEEP (due to academic pressures and extra-curricular demands).
These are all related to greater odds of being overweight—just like in the U.S.Cindy, our tour guide, told us that there are no summer vacations, just more school and after-school programs to make children more competitive when they graduate. There is no bicycle riding like when she was a kid for fitness or fun.
Jie Mi, director of epidemiology at Capital Institute of Pediatrics says that the causes of the non-healthy lifestyle are complicated in China. She reports that “Some children are unaware of what is healthy, some have never had a healthy lifestyle, and others abandon it due to school pressures.” Mi suggests Western culture and affluence are responsible for many unhealthy eating habits, such as fast food, carbonated drinks, and fried food. Even diets in China that include a lot of vegetables are causing weight gain.
BECAUSE THEY ARE OFTEN DEEP FRIED OR STIR FRIED IN EXCESS OIL.
Parents’ awareness of their children’s obesity is affected by their own education level, and whether they themselves are obese or not. More educated parents, who are likely also wealthier, may be able to afford fast food, which is cheap in America, but not so much in China. Also, overweight children may be underreporting their intake of unhealthy food. Educated parents who are not obese are better able to assess their children’s situation.
Grandparents also play a role in the epidemic.
50% of urban Chinese children are raised by grandparents who often over-feed their offspring. Their attitudes developed when food resources were scarce. They believed that heavy eating early in childhood made children strong and protected their health and nutrition. Similar to US grandparents, they express love with food and use food as rewards for educational achievement. Also similar to the US, food is used to soothe emotions.
Ironically, Chinese peasants ate a very healthy diet. The super heart-saving Asian diet has won the approval of many nutrition experts because it emphasizes plant-based, rather than animal-based, foods.
To combat childhood obesity in Beijing, local authorities are considering introducing BMI checks and weight-management methods into schools.
It seems clear that as the influence of Western civilization grows, so do our stomachs.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Following a traditional peasant eating pattern may just be the path to sound health and a long life.“If we don’t change our direction, we’re likely to end up where we’re headed.”
Have a happy, healthy week everybody!
Ellen is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco and Redwood City, California. She specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and incorporates the use of mindfulness into the treatment of depression, anxiety, and emotional overeating. She runs a holistic weight loss program called Center for Thoughtful Weight Loss, www.thoughtfulweightloss.com.
You can email Ellen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2011 Ellen N. Resnick, LCSW