Chinese children’s ever-wider waistlines are sparking fears of a Western-style obesity epidemic in the People’s Republic. While less than five per cent of China’s overall population is obese, levels of obesity among children have risen by 156 per cent between 1996 and 2006. The country is still struggling with childhood undernourishment in poorer, rural areas, but in the booming northern and coastal regions, overweight children number 12 million.
The problem is particularly hefty in big cities, where a traditional culture that equates “fat baby” with “healthy baby” meets Western imports such as sedentary lifestyles and Kentucky Fried Chicken. In Shanghai, over one-third of school-aged children are overweight or obese, according to estimates. China’s one-child policy has also led families (particularly grandparents) to spoil and overfeed little ones, say experts. Officials and concerned parents are taking a drastic approach to the problem, including military-style fat camps and one-hour-a-day mandatory physical exercise in schools.