Why children in China are too fat - and what is being done about it with sport

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China's children are too fat - and the forecasts up to 2030 are frightening. Up to 50 million children are at risk of becoming obese. The reasons for this trend are many and not always immediately apparent, but China has declared war on the problem.

More and more children in China are in danger of obesity.
More and more children in China are in danger of obesity.

China's youth are doing well - very well, in fact, compared to the generations of their parents and grandparents. But in the meantime, the signs can no longer be denied that the millions of kids in China are even doing too well. For they are increasingly not only happy as pugs in oat straw, but are also beginning to have their full bodies. In short: China's youth is getting fatter and fatter.

A study by Peking University's School of Public Health found that if the trend remains the same, one in four children over the age of seven will suffer from obesity in ten years. In an international comparison, China already ranks first among children between the ages of seven and 18, with 15 million obese children. By 2030, the number is expected to rise to an incredible 50 million. By comparison, in 1985 there were only 6.15 million affected children and adolescents.

China's youth: little sport, lots of fast food

But what are the reasons for this explosive development in a country where 30 years ago fat people were as hard to find as a McDonald's branch in Beijing?

Probably the biggest factor is the increasing influence of the Western lifestyle. Convenience and fast food are becoming increasingly established in China, which, coupled with a steadily rising rural exodus and less physical occupations, makes for a dangerous mix.

From the children's point of view, this means that their parents are working longer hours, cooking is taking a back seat, and children are spending longer periods of time in schools - i.e. sitting at desks. In addition, the newly grown middle class has a larger household budget, which means the refrigerator is always well stocked.

One-child policy a problem in China

Two other factors have also been identified in studies: Video games and grandparents. If the causality in the case of video games, i.e. physical inactivity combined with poor nutrition, is relatively easy to explain, the bad influence of grandparents is not immediately apparent.

Especially in rural areas, grandparents very often serve as supervisors because the parents of the "little emperors" are at work in one of the big cities. For China's generation of old people, fat children are considered healthy children, and at the same time the only grandchild - resulting from China's one-child policy - is treated particularly well.

With these measures China fights against calories

To prevent the frightening predictions from becoming reality, China is attacking the problem of childhood obesity from several directions:

  • Nutrition education: The Chinese government has launched the 13-year "Healthy China 2030" plan, which, among other things, implements health education in schools as part of the curriculum. At the same time, there are nutrition training programs in several provinces, such as the "Chirpy Dragon" project, which also involves parents and grandparents. Here, participants at the children's schools are taught healthy cooking and children's games with physical activity, among other things.
  • Infrastructure: In addition to a healthy diet, exercise is of course an important factor in burning off the calories consumed. China's government is focusing primarily on soccer and basketball courts. By 2025, there should be 50,000 soccer academies in China, producing around 50 million players.
  • New sports: Winter sports are booming in China, and more and more parents are putting their youngest children into ski schools. Even if it's a status symbol for the parents at first, for the kids it's a way to be out in nature and get some exercise. Moreover, with Beijing hosting the 2020 Winter Olympics, sports like ice hockey are becoming increasingly popular.
  • Boot Camps: Things are a little less gentle in the "boot camps" that are being set up more and more frequently. Here, the kids are made to sweat during the mostly two-hour courses. Supervised by trainers, there is a training session in the morning and in the evening, and a nutrition plan is also followed. For two months of boot camp, parents have to shell out around 3,500 euros at companies like Jian Fei Da Ren.

If China does not succeed in stopping the dangerous trend, it could cost the country dearly. According to calculations, spending on chronic diseases related to obesity and overweight would rise from 2.7 billion euros (2002) to 6.1 billion euros in 2030.

China is fighting against the calories with these measures

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.

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