Obesity Rates Soar in China, India and Other Nations


Obesity isn’t just an American problem anymore. The obesity epidemic long-associated with the Western world is now extending its chubby arms in the direction of developing Eastern nations like China and India causing them to see soaring numbers of citizens packing on the pounds.

In a report titled “Future Diets,” the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) used data covering a period of about 28 years from India, China, and Mexico, among others, to demonstrate the trend toward obesity in developing nations. The ODI analysis revealed that between the years of 1980 and 2008, obesity effectively tripled in the developing countries examined, resulting in a total of about 904 million obese citizens. The ODI describes this trend as a veritable “fat explosion.”

According to this research, India alone is credited with approximately 1.46 billion people now considered overweight or obese, with a national rate of those deemed overweight or obese of about 11 percent. Similar rates of obesity are seen among younger adults in China, particularly those between the ages of 20 and 39, with the country overall seeing obesity rates at about double what they were just over 30 years ago.

The Future Diets report also highlighted the fact that there are now a greater percentage of obese people in poor countries than there are in wealthy nations. The 904 million overweight and obese citizens of developing nations are matched by only 557 million in the most industrialized nations. Many of the same countries that see their citizens without enough to eat are also those seeing dramatically increased rates of obesity. This paradox is a relatively recent occurrence and has scientists and researchers looking for the reasons behind the trend.

An increase in median income in the countries most drastically effected, coupled with decreasing food prices in those same countries appears to be a driving force behind the soar of obesity rates in China, India and other similarly situated nations.  Also to blame, though, may be the rise of advertising and media campaigns.

An increase in the consumption of animal products, fat, salt and sugar is generally associated with industrialization, however the substance of diets across nations doesn’t necessarily look the same.

While rates of consumption of animal products have increased in India, for example, the increase is mostly in the form of dairy products rather than meat, as many Indians subscribe to a vegetarian diet.  In China, on the other hand, increased consumption of animal products is more likely to mean consumption of actual meat. Other countries have seen their diets infiltrated more by additional sugars than additional fats.

The report emphasized that the solution to the growing obesity epidemic may ultimately lie in government intervention. As nations face the threats of increased cancer risk, diabetes, heart disease and stroke associated with obesity, the researchers behind the Future Diets report indicate that politicians will likely feel compelled to intervene.

While most governments seem reluctant thus far to interfere with food and diet choices, due either to fear of alienating corporate contributors or to a desire to stay away from what many consider an issue of personal freedom, others have already taken small steps to try to improve the diets of their citizens.

South Korea has seen a significant increase in the consumption of fresh produce since the country implemented a widespread public service and education campaign to promote these healthier choices. Likewise, Denmark has had success in simply banning all trans fats from their nation’s food providers. It remains to be seen whether the developing nations such as China and India that are seeing soaring obesity rates within their borders will follow suit.

By Michele Wessel


Business Standard
China Daily