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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Obesity in China

As hard as it is, I still can't believe China is linked to obesity: it's the byproduct of getting rich; maybe increased car ownership too (source: WSJ)
 

Obesity in China Becoming More Common

By SHIRLEY S. WANG

In a development with implications for China's work force and economic growth, a new study says more than 25% of adults in the country are overweight or obese and that the number could double over the next 20 years.

The report, based on data collected from 20,000 patients in China over the past 15 years, says obesity has increased 1.2% a year among men in that time -- higher than the rate for adult men in the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

With the population at 1.3 billion, that means an additional 11 million Chinese adults are becoming overweight or obese every year. In addition, 12 million to 14 million adults are becoming at risk for diabetes and hypertension annually, says study author Barry Popkin, director of the obesity center and professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"When you have this many people becoming diabetic and hypertensive, you think about the health-care costs and it's pretty staggering," says Dr. Popkin. The study is set to be published today in the health policy journal Health Affairs.

The study suggests that the problem may be accelerating. And the reasons for the rise in obesity isn't because of increased consumption of fast food or other Western foods in China, Dr. Popkin says. Rather, improving living standards mean that growing numbers of Chinese can now afford vegetable oil, beef and dairy-food sources that until recently had been too costly. A more sedentary lifestyle for many Chinese plays an important role as well.

Obesity-related costs are likely to lead not only to drastic increases in direct medical costs, but also to indirect costs like decreased worker productivity and absenteeism.

Health-care costs could also have implications for companies looking to invest in China. Many companies provide medical care for workers, and thus they could end up footing much of the bill for obesity-related costs, Dr. Popkin says.

Those costs could prompt companies to invest in less-costly markets, such as Vietnam, and ultimately slow the Chinese economy. "U.S. labor costs skyrocketed and people are moving away from investing here," says Dr. Popkin. "It's the same issue in China."