China’s youth is doing well – even very well, in comparison to the generations of their parents and grandparents. But by now the signs can no longer be denied that, for millions of children in China, things may even be going too well. More and more often, they’re not just happy as a clam, but also having more than their fill. In short: China’s youth is getting more and more heavy.
A study by the Peking University School of Public Health has shown that, if the development of the trend stays the same, in ten years every fourth child over seven years old will suffer from obesity. In international comparison, China holds the top spot for obese children between seven and eighteen years of age, at 15 million children. That number is set to climb to an unbelievable 50 million by 2030. By way of comparison, in 1985 there were only 6.15 million affected children and teenagers.
But what are the reasons for this explosive development in a country where, just 30 years ago, fat people were as difficult to find as a McDonalds in Beijing?
Probably the biggest factor is the rising influence of the Western lifestyle. Convenience food and fast food are rapidly establishing themselves in China which, coupled with a constantly climbing migration into cities and fewer physical occupations, makes for a dangerous combination.
From children’s perspectives, this means that their parents work longer hours, cooking takes a back seat, and children spend more time in school – that is to say, sitting at their desks. The newly grown middle class also has access to a larger household budget, which means the refrigerator is always well-stocked.
Two other factors likewise recognized in studies: video games and grandparents. If the causality of video games, that is lack of exercise in connection with poor nutrition, is relatively easy to explain, the bad influence of grandparents may not be immediately recognizable.
Particularly in rural regions, grandparents very often serve as custodians while the parents of the “little emperor” are at work in the big cities. For China’s older generation, chubby children are considered healthy children, while at the same time the only grandchild – as a result of China’s one-child policy – is treated especially well.
To keep the alarming prognoses from becoming a reality, China is attacking the problem of child obesity from multiple angles.
- Nutrition training: The Chinese has initiated the 13-year plan “Healthy China 2030” which, among other things, is implementing health lessons in schools’ teaching plans. At the same time, several provinces have nutrition training like the “Chirpy Dragon” project, which also gets parents and grandparents involved. Participants in the children’s schools are, among other things, taught about healthy cooking and children’s games with physical activity.
- Infrastructure: In addition to healthy diet, exercise is naturally an important factor in burning off consumed calories. China’s government is focusing primarily on soccer and basketball spaces. China is set to have 50,000 soccer academies creating roughly 50 million players by the year 2025.
- New sports: Winter sports are booming in China, and more and more parents are sending their little ones to skiing schools. Even if it’s initially just a status symbol for the parents, for the kids it’s an opportunity to be outdoors and exercise. Sports like ice hockey are also becoming more and more popular thanks to the staging of the 2020 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
- Boot camps: Things go a bit less softly in the increasing founded “boot camps.” Here, kids really get sweating in often two-hour-long courses. Supervised by coaches, there’s a training unit in the morning and in the evening, along with sticking to a nutrition plan. Parents need to fork over roughly 4,000 dollars for two months of boot camp at companies like Jian Fei Da Ren.
Should China not succeed in halting this dangerous trend, it could cost the country dearly. According to calculations, the expenses for chronic illnesses in connection with obesity and excess weight could climb from 2.7 billion euros (2002) to 6.1 billion in 2030.