Are Chinese waistlines growing faster than the Chinese GDP?

7 Mar

The older generations of China will expressively remember the Great Famine of 1958-61, when 45 million people died of hunger related causes, bringing widespread devastation to the country of China. ‘Today, nearly every street corner in Beijing and many other cities seem to boast a McDonald’s.’ (, 2014). Given how impoverished the country was not long ago and how underprivileged parts of it still are, ‘having a problem where people are eating too much may seem a little churlish to complain about,’ says Paul French, a Shanghai based author.

According to the World Health Organisation, obesity within China is becoming an increasingly alarming concern. Although the overall rates of obesity fall below 5% in the country, some cities have experienced obesity rates of over 20%. This demonstrates the dramatic social and economical changes that have occurred over the past 30 years, during China’s rapid development. As obesity in China is predominantly confined to the larger cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, it demonstrates how globalization and the ‘fast food culture’ has truly taken over, whilst the poorer more rural areas are left to suffer from the inequalities that are still present within the country.

‘High rates of smoking, lack of exercise and unhealthy diets have contributed to an onslaught of disease in China. Like many developed countries have experienced, bad habits came with greater wealth.’ (, 2014)

The rising number of overweight Chinese people is, in part, the result of the country’s remarkable economic growth over the last 30 years. Many lifestyle changes and environmental changes have occurred in China during this reform. Rapid urban development has left very little public space for the inhabitants to exercise, which is far from ideal as the country is already lacking in gyms and sports clubs, particularly in areas located out of the cities. ‘More Chinese are also moving to cities where they may encounter worse pollution, less-healthy diets, sedentary lifestyles and jobs that demand long hours.’ (Presse, 2014) The demands and stresses of the average Chinese workers lifestyle leaves them with little concern over their fitness and health, simply due to lack of time and other priorities such as work and family.

According to Wang Longde, the Chinese vice health minister, the problem is that the population does not have enough awareness and lacks knowledge of nutrition and what constitutes a reasonable diet.

Has China’s emphasis on advancing in life academically to get a better education and job lured the population away from participation in sport and exercise? De-emphasis on sports could play a crucial role in the rise of obesity in China. Does the heavy emphasis on schoolwork and employment pressures keep children away from physical activity?


French, P. and Crabbe, M. 2010. Fat China. London: Anthem Press 2014. China confronts problem of obesity. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 7 Mar 2014].

Presse, A. 2014. Obesity On The Rise For China’s Young Adults. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 7 Mar 2014]. 2014. Obesity rate on the increase|Society| [online] Available at: [Accessed: 7 Mar 2014]. 2014. Health Experts Encourage China to Help Combat Non-Communicable Diseases – China Real Time Report – WSJ. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 7 Mar 2014].


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