China Looks To Japan As Model In Battle Against Obesity

The Japanese diet is rich in carbohydrates, but widespread obesity has not occurred even through the country's economic boom.

KFC in Beijing
KFC in Beijing
An Huaiyu

BEIJING — According to the latest reports from the World Health Organization, China has the world's second highest number of obese people. Even more alarming is its growing childhood obesity: 15.7% of Chinese girls under 18 years old and 23.9% of boys are overweight. This is a significantly higher percentage, for example, than their peers in France (13.1%).

Such high proportion of childhood obesity also means there will be a high rate of chronic diseases and this will create a heavy health care burden. The Weigh to Go research project, committed to the long-term observation of overweight children in China, showed that 1.9% Chinese minors aged between 12 and 18 suffer from diabetes, which is nearly four times their peers in the United States. The same study also found that 12.1% of Chinese adolescents have a higher incidence of inflammation — a major factor in causing cardiovascular diseases, compared with 8.5% of American adolescents of the same age group.

To put it crudely: Why are Chinese children getting fat?

Many blame China's rapid economic development and the arrival of "sudden" wealth for prompting us to spoil our offspring. The growing number of gluttonous meals and extended dinners certainly increase fat and sugar intake, are should share in the blame. At the same time, Western fast food chain such as KFC and McDonald's are popping up all over Chinese cities. To hook customers these chain restaurants often add excessive amount of sauce containing sugar, fat, salt and monosodium glutamate. Yes, unfortunately, a growing number of Chinese youth now eat hamburgers or fried chicken as their lunch.

On top of all this, the habit of eating snacks has changed substantially too. From eating traditional beans or nuts, now Chinese school children choose processed and seasoned chips, biscuits, and "spicy-stick", a particularly popular local nibble made of heavily processed flour, not to mention more and more sugary carbonated drinks. High-sugar, high-salt and high-oil food are subtly changing Chinese children's diet, yet the majority of them haven't the faintest idea why they are getting fatter and fatter.

A rich man's disease?

It is interesting to note, however, that Japanese children in comparison are slightly better, 15.3% for the girls and 15.6% for the boys in childhood obesity. Every other modern country faces this plague.

As a matter of fact, Japan preserved its traditional diet even while it was booming economically. Though the Japanese diet continues to contain a high proportion of carbohydrates, the nation's cuisine includes less processing and carbohydrates usually come closer to its natural form, and are thus healthy and fiber-rich. A traditional Japanese meal always consists of very high proportion of dietary fibers such as fresh vegetables, buckwheat noodle and legumes. The fact that Japanese cuisine doesn't add dairy products to carbohydrates also means that there's no additional fat.

Miso soup, Tokyo — Photo: City Foodsters

For a long time in China, obesity and diabetes were considered a "rich man's disease." The truth is that lower-income groups are affected by obesity more than the high-income groups. Currently, China's rural areas have many more overweight children and more chronic diseases.

Children lacking self-control are more likely to find comfort in eating.

Then there is the academic element. It is all too common that Chinese parents reward a good school performance with food, creating a "dopamine reward circuit" that associates their favorite food with happiness and thus put them at risk of overeating. The intensively competitive environment for students in China feeds the negative circle, adding excess psychological pressure that can stimulate excessive food intake.

Hans Selye, a Hungarian-born endocrinologist, argues that the human body has an alarm function when confronted with stress, releasing glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids into the bloodstream to cope with extra pressure. But once one's energy is all used up, the body will continue to have a greater desire for high-calorie foods. This helps explains why children lacking self-control are more likely to find comfort in eating.

Though most older children are aware of the danger obesity may bring, they don't know how to change their behavior. Between the ages of 12 and 14, children form many of their adult habits and characteristics. At this age, a small proportion of teenagers will choose and manage to lose weight. But half of the rest will lose confidence they are ever going to get thinner while the other half simply accept their roundness as a ‘fact."

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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