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Obesity Rising In China

July 8th, 2008

Like the United States, China is grappling with a serious obesity epidemic, with nearly 25 percent of its adults considered overweight or obese, according to a study out today in Health Affairs. The rate of overweight adults in the country is predicted to double by 2028 without interventions to stem the growth rate. An increasingly Westernized diet and a decline in physical activity are seen as culprits.

A report on BBC today notes that while obesity has often been associated with China’s new affluence and more urban lifestyle, this new study finds that low-income Chinese in rural areas are more susceptible to becoming overweight. However, as USAToday notes, China still lags far behind the United States, where 66% of Americans are overweight.

Study author, Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina, told Health Affairs:

“What’s happening in China should be seen as a marker for what is going to hit the rest of the developing world if we fail to act. We need to find the right investments and regulations to encourage people to adopt a healthy lifestyle, or we risk facing higher rates of death, disease, and disability and the related costs.”

The study is part of the July/August 2008 Health Affairs issue released today on “China and India: Reform Goes Global,” published with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. BBC offers an interview with study author, Popkin.

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4 Trackbacks for “Obesity Rising In China”

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3 Responses to “Obesity Rising In China”

  1. Quinn the HSK Guy Says:

    I know this post is over 4 years old, but I just wanted to add something. I work as a translator for the Taiwanese government and translate a lot of documents for the Department of Public Health. The Taiwanese and Chinese are currently experiences an obesity-linked problem in the form of diabetes.

    In Chinese senior citizens, nearly one half have type 2 diabetes. I’m not sure about the US, but this number seems extremely high. I believe it’s partly due to diet. Everything in Taiwan and China is carbs, carbs, carbs. But the culture makes it seem like carbs are super healthy. Young girls will skip the meat in favor of meatless noodles, thinking this will make them thinner. But such a habit leads to diabetes in the long run.

    What can we do about this? I think education is the key. Currently, China doesn’t have the eating culture Americans have. That is, they don’t stuff themselves every day and snack all the time. To get them to change their eating habits while they still eat low-calorie diets would help improve public health.

  2. Jane Hiebert-White Says:


    Good question. In the article Dr. Popkin says “nearly a quarter.” Here is the direct text from the paper:

    “As one might expect, the combination of all of these forces has resulted in a rapid increase in the distribution of the body mass index (BMI) of the Chinese population, particularly adults. Overweight status among adult males tripled and among adult females, doubled, between 1989 and 2000. By 2004, nearly a quarter of all Chinese adults were overweight. Moreover, the rate of change of Chinese overweight status, in particular among adults, is one of the most rapid in the world and far larger than that in the United States.”


  3. frederikbalfour Says:

    I am confused. In the extract from the Health Affairs website Dr. Popkin’s paper says that more than one fifth [which I take to mean 20%] of China’s adult population is overweight. Yet your blog, and several other media have been using a figure of 25%, or one quarter. Which figure is correct?

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