China battles rising teen obesity, diabetes | Connect Asia

China battles rising teen obesity, diabetes

China battles rising teen obesity, diabetes

Updated 24 July 2012, 14:36 AEST

The opening up of China has produced many benefits for the people of the world's most populous country, but there are challenges too.

Growing prosperity has led to more fatty processed foods entering the Chinese diet, and coupled with less fresh food and children who don't exercise, the result is an obesity epidemic.

A new study has uncovered evidence to show that the number of Chinese teenagers with diabetes is nearly four times higher than among their peers in the United States.

Correspondent: Stephen McDonell

STEPHEN MCDONELL: In the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen a group of 30 or so overweight teenagers are training like there's no tomorrow.

This is a live-in weight loss camp that requires huge commitment. In the sweltering summer they jog, lift weights and do aerobics 5 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months on end.

The only food available is that which is provided by the coaches.

The objective is clear: eat good food and train like professional athletes with a view to losing plenty of kilos.

(Teenage girl speaking)

"When I first came here, I weighed 89 kilograms," says one teenage girl. "I only planned to stay for two months at first to see whether it worked. Well now I've registered for another two months because I've lost 16 kilograms already."

The reason for such desperate measures is that China's diet has changed drastically in recent times.

The opening up of the country has meant an enormous influx of junk food chains, especially from the United States, which have only increased in number over the past five years.

According to experts, more fatty processed foods, less fresh food and kids who don't exercise is leading to an explosion of obesity in China.

A new study by the University of North Carolina has found that Chinese teenagers have diabetes rates nearly four times greater than their counterparts in the United States.

Doctors here are also bracing for a wave of heart disease in the coming years.

(Chinese teenagers chanting with fitness instructor)

What's more, back at the weight loss camp, participants tell us that their self-esteem has been taking a beating.

(Chinese girl speaking)

"After putting on 15 kilograms I looked much bigger than before," says one girl. "I felt uncomfortable and I lost confidence. My parents worried about me."

Well what did your parents say, we ask her.

"They told me to lose weight because I was unhealthy and not looking good."

The challenge for Chinese policy makers is the same as that in many countries: how do you, on the one hand, respect people's right to eat unhealthy food if they chose to, while on the other, managing a public health crisis as a result of this junk food invasion.

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