Younger Chinese Getting Fatter, Less Fit

Overweight Chinese children line up during a "Fat Camp" in Zhengzhou, central China's Henan Province, July 14, 2013.

Three decades of rapid economic growth have radically altered the lifestyle of Chinese people, with higher income levels and greater psychological pressure leading to growing weight problems among younger people, recent figures show.

More Chinese people aged 20 to 39 are becoming overweight and their athletic ability is declining, state media reported this week, citing a nationwide survey of more than 43,000 adults.

More than 11 percent of Chinese people aged 20 to 39 are now classified as obese, an increase of two percentage points since the last survey three years ago, official media reported.

The news comes ahead of China's National Fitness Day on Thursday, which marks the anniversary of the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

The 20-39 age group is, on average, 1.92 kilograms heavier than during the last survey, and has put on more weight than middle-aged and elderly people, the China Daily newspaper quoted the survey as saying.

Beijing's General Administration of Sport looked at data from 10 regions and provinces, and found that 34.4 percent of Chinese between 20 and 69 are overweight.

Waistlines and hiplines are expanding across the population, particularly among young men and middle-aged women in Chinese cities, while many young adults performed less well on physical tests of jumping, balance, and grip capacity than the same age group did in the last survey, officials said.

According to the country's sports experts, part of the problem is that young Chinese people are no longer drafted in to mandatory exercise and sports programs from an early age.

"We are still analyzing the reasons, but it couldn't be more obvious that the lack of exercise played a negative role,"  Tian Ye, director of the China Institute of Sports Science, told the China Daily.

In the 20-39 age group, 51 percent take no regular exercise, with many saying their work and study schedules leave them no time to stay fit.

'Lack of restraint'

Xie Jiaye, head of the California-based America-China Association for Science & Technology Exchange, blamed an abundance of food since China's economy began to boom in the 1980s.

"There is a lack of restraint in eating and drinking, and Chinese food can be pretty oily," Xie said. "They don't move around much, and there is a lot of night-life .. .a lot of drinking, and then there's the smoking."

Xie said Chinese children were already on the road to obesity with the growing popularity of cheap, processed foods.

"Chinese kids love to eat fast food," he said. "Also, there are huge amounts of sugar in their drinks ... and Chinese kids don't do as much exercise as they used to."

"In the U.S., working out is very fashionable."

U.S.-based traditional Chinese doctor Zhang Youmu agreed.

"If you eat too much and are inactive, you can't avoid gaining weight," he said, adding: "Eat less, move more."

Experts have warned that Beijing's haul of 51 gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics shouldn't be taken as a sign that China has become a great sporting nation.

General public ignored

China spends billions of dollars annually on its state sports development budget, but the Soviet-inspired program has been criticized for ignoring the general public.

For example, out of a population of 1.3 billion, only around 12 million Chinese currently play tennis regularly.

Government talent scouts handpick promising youngsters at an early age, taking them away from their families to a life of permanent training and discipline. But the system does little to encourage ordinary people to get fitter and healthier, former officials have said.

But the sports survey also showed a rising demand for public sports facilities across China.

The number of people aged 20 to 69 who do intense exercise three times a week has risen to 32.7 percent, 4.5 percentage points up compared with 2007, the survey found.

More than 38 percent of that group now exercise at public sports venues including community and municipal sports facilities.

But 9.6 percent of regular exercisers complained that public sports facilities have still failed to meet people's demands, the survey found.

Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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