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Childhood Obesity In China, A Rich Kid's Problem

Contrary to the West, where obesity rates are higher in poorer, less well-educated areas, China's overweight youth are from wealthy families. It has been dubbed a "disease of affluence."

At a fitness club of the Tianma Experimental School in Zhuji, east China's Zhejiang Province
At a fitness club of the Tianma Experimental School in Zhuji, east China's Zhejiang Province
Cunfu

BEIJING – Most Chinese parents used to consider childhood obesity a purely Western problem. But China has been forced to face the issue over the past few years, with statistics now showing rates of certain youth diseases linked to obesity have surpassed levels in the United States.

The International Association for the Study of Obesity published a recent study that found that more than 12% of China’s minors are overweight and one-third of children under 17 suffer from at least one cardiovascular risk factor, including 1.9% of China’s 12-18 year olds suffering from diabetes, four times the number of their peers of the same age group in America.

Meanwhile 14.9 percent of Chinese children and adolescents show early symptoms of diabetes such as elevated blood sugar, while 12.1% of Chinese teenagers have a high incidence of arterial inflammation which is the main cause of cardiovascular disease. In contrast only 8.5 % of adolescents in the United States face the same condition.

Contrary to the West, in China the richer an area the fatter the children are, and the higher the probability of them suffering from diabetes. It’s generally due to family education and diet changes. Just like adults, children of the affluent class also are more subject to this "disease of affluence."

Chinese people tend to have an overall lower awareness of childhood obesity and the chronic diseases it may cause. Well-educated and well-off parents tend not to have correct information about the issues of diet and exercise, and their children have greater access to foods that are high in fat and sugars and tend to be less physically active than the poor who don't own automobiles.

Thus the key lies in informing parents and children, which until now has been lacking in both the governmental and educational arenas.

While screening and preventive measures against childhood disease is utterly absent in China, in advanced countries nonprofit organizations, schools and insurance companies have established a relatively mature child health screening mechanism. For those kids who demonstrate high risk factors such as being overweight, the school or their parents' insurers regularly urge parents to take them for further examinations of the levels of blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

China's health insurance coverage of childhood diseases is scant, and the protection is weak, with families forced to pay for most treatment and medicines for chronic illnesses. Thus health education and guidance are crucial. For instance, America's mobile health market has begun to launch apps for chronic childhood disease management that include games to help children understand diseases and guide parents in how to push their kids to eat healthily and exercise.

What will be the price of China's growing problem of childhood obesity? It is not just in the costs and pain of sick children now, but the health of the future labor force is also at stake.

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