Obesity is becoming serious problem among Chinese youths as the Asian giant prospers and increasingly adopts Western customs and lifestyles.

Johns Hopkins University recently reported that as many as 20 percent of children in China are overweight (as perhaps as much as one-third of Chinese boys are). In contrast, as recently as 1985, a study by Beijing University indicated that less than Chinese children were overweight.

Donna Spruijt-Metz University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine told The Atlantic that part of the problem has to do with Chinese kids watching too much television and getting on their computers -- similar to traits of American kids.

However, something surprising emerges when finding other causes for the rising rate of chubbiness in China.

In a study of more than 9,000 middle school and high school students across seven Chinese cities indicated that obesity seemed to rise among kids engaged in “more vigorous exercise, less candy and fast food intake, less frequent snacking, more fruit consumption, and higher parental educational attainment.”

This would seem to be a paradox.

I hadn't seen any data ever—and I've seen lots of data—to show that eating fruits and vegetables, for example, is related to higher weight, Spruijt-Metz, a coauthor of the study told The Atlantic.

The researchers speculate that Chinese kids who eat a lot of vegetables might also be ingesting a lot of oil since deep-frying and stir-frying are quite popular ways to cook food in the country.

Ironically, wealthier Chinese parents are more likely to buy fast food, which are very expensive in China, but cheap in the U.S.

Another explanation may simply be that the children are under-reporting the amount of junk food they actually consume.

“Maybe it’s just overall a larger energy intake,” Spruijt-Metz said.
“There’s still a cultural perception in China that it’s healthy and desirable if you’re beefier.”

A blogger on Care2.com, which promotes healthy eating, suggests also that since China has a one-child policy, the kids might be doted on more than ever, especially with too much food. Moreover, meat, especially pork, is abundant in China. In addition, as in 19th century Europe and U.S., wealth and status may be linked in the consciousness to being fat in China.

Spruijt-Metz added: “What strikes me most about obesity in China is that it’s like watching the U.S. except in high speed. It took Americans many decades to get this fat, and it took them no time at all.”

Regardless of why it is happening, obesity in China is reaching alarming levels and could create long-term negative social health implications.

The dramatic changes in social and environmental factors, and the individual and family's lifestyles, including Westernized eating behaviors, are the key drivers of childhood obesity in China, said Johns Hopkins international health professor Youfa Wang.