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Nation's waistlines continue to grow, says report

Updated: 2020-12-24



As the nation's economy and power continue to grow, Chinese people are getting taller, but they are also putting on weight at a worrisome rate, according to a report released by the National Health Commission on Dec 23.

More than half of Chinese people age 18 and above are obese or overweight owing to unhealthy diets and static lifestyles, according to the report, which surveyed the nutritional condition and chronic diseases of people in China from 2015 to 2019.

At the beginning of the century, less than one in three adult Chinese were considered obese or overweight, according to data from the commission.

The upside is that the average height of Chinese people aged 18 to 44 has increased to nearly 170 centimeters for males and 158 cm for females, thanks to an increased intake of high-quality protein, such as dairy products, seafood and poultry, according to the new report.

The prevalence of stunting, especially in rural areas, has also dropped markedly, it said.

"Physical growth and nutritional patterns of Chinese citizens are improving and the gap between urban and rural areas in these aspects is narrowing," Li Bin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, said during a news conference held by the State Council Information Office.

"But the issue of obesity and being overweight has loomed large and the rates of both conditions are trending up consistently," he said.

According to the report, 34.3 percent of adult Chinese are overweight and 16.4 percent are obese.

The proportion of the younger population facing weight issues is also alarming. The report shows that nearly 20 percent of youngsters aged 6 to 17 and more than 10 percent of children younger than 6 are either obese or overweight.

"Bulging waistlines are affecting the entire population and have brought enormous challenges to the country," said Zhao Wenhua, chief nutritionist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

She said both individual efforts and social awareness are vital in combating excess weight gain.

The quality of the daily diet of Chinese people, which contains high amounts of fat, salt and sugar but insufficient vegetables, fruit and soybean products, should be improved, Zhao said.

According to the report, the daily per capita intake of salt and cooking oil of Chinese people is far higher than the recommended portion of five grams of salt and 43.2 grams of cooking oil.

Sugar addiction

Nearly 20 percent of middle and high school students regularly consume sugary drinks, it added.

"Food manufacturers should be encouraged to provide more nutritious food that is low in sugar and fat, and governments are expected to support catering businesses that provide healthier dietary choices," Zhao said.

She also suggested building more public fitness infrastructure to promote regular exercise.

"Chinese residents are living a more sedentary lifestyle due to the development of sophisticated transportation systems and the widespread use of electronic devices," Zhao said.

The report said that less than one in four adults work out at least once a week.

"Advocacy campaigns should be rolled out to guide residents to adopt a healthier diet, manage their weight and learn to integrate workout regimes into their daily lives," she said.

Adult weight gain is closely associated with the incidence of chronic diseases. Deaths caused by chronic illnesses accounted for more than 88 percent of all deaths in 2019 in China, with the majority being cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, according to the report.