Back in times, Bruce Lee was a myth. A small Chinese (actually born in Chinatown in San Francisco in a family from Hong Kong) able to defeat much bigger opponents thanks to his speed, the precision and force of his strikes: a bundle of nerves that hurled like a whirlwind at the enemy. He was the tip of the iceberg, of the Chinese people, which had the same characteristics as the cinematic myth: small in stature, light, thin but strong, muscles without fat. A typology that is more frequently found in the countryside, not contaminated by Western lifestyle. Today – perhaps because of the so-called globalization – even this last bastion is changing: in fact, obesity has increased rapidly among Chinese young people living in rural areas.
A study has warned against these socio-economic changes. Researchers found out that 17% of boys and 9% of girls under 19 were obese in 2014, compared to 1% in 1985. The study – which lasted 29 years – was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. It involved nearly 28,000 students in Shandong province and used a more rigid the Body Mass Index (BMI) cut-off compared to World Health Organization standards.
“It is the worst explosion of childhood and teenage obesity I have ever seen,” Joep Perk told AFP press agency, the European Society of Cardiology. The causes? Nothing more trivial: an increase of energy intake and decreased physical activity. Chinese traditional food had shifted towards supply “with high fat content, high energy density, and low dietary fiber.” An insult to our health.
The data were gathered from six government surveys on schoolchildren in rural areas of Shandong aged from 7 to 18. The percentage of overweight children has increased from 0.7% to 16.4% in the case of boys and from 1,5% to almost 14% in that of girls. Researchers recommend that “global intervention strategies include periodic monitoring, nutrition model education, physical exercise, and healthy eating habits.”
But it is not only a Chinese problem, not at all. Europe, where this slippery slope is a long-time problem, evaluates also its social costs. Obesity’s negative economic impact is caused by the costs weighting on the healthcare systems (medicines and hospitalizations due to this illness itself and its complications), absenteeism from work and reduced job performance, with a significant impact on society. Obesity and its complications contribute very significantly to health care costs in Western countries.
In addition to direct health care costs, we have to consider also those resulting from reduced working efficiency. The latter should be understood in terms of lost work days, inability to carry out some tasks, an increment of the number of accidents at work, and early retirement. The social cost of obesity is huge: in some European countries it reaches 1% of gross domestic product and accounts for 6% of direct health care costs.