China faces obesity explosion

Chinese youngster Liu Tao Liu Tao weighed 40kg more than he should have before starting weight-loss treatment

The Aimin Fat Reduction Hospital in the Chinese city of Tianjin does not hide its aims behind an inoffensive name.

It currently has more than 100 patients, but only one goal - to get them to lose weight.

It is one of many hospitals, clinics and camps that have sprung up across China to help the country's growing army of overweight and obese citizens.

These people are more liable to suffer from a range of illnesses, and are already putting pressure on China's healthcare system.

Many countries have to cope with similar problems, but what is unusual in China is that there has been an explosion of obesity.

Just a generation ago, hardly anyone was overweight.

Elastic skin

Liu Tao is one of the hospital's day patients. He is only 12 years old, but weighed 115kg before he began his course of treatment.

That is about 40kg above what someone of his height should weigh.

His treatment includes a very Chinese approach to weight loss: he has regular sessions of acupuncture and massage.

The massage ensures that his skin remains elastic - so it will shrink along with his waistline.

The youngster made a good start, losing 9kg in just over two weeks.

Liu Tao Liu Tao's mum says he has always been bigger than other youngsters

China's family planning policies have been blamed for the growing number of overweight children.

Many families have just one child and some say these children are spoilt; Liu Tao is an only child and admits he used to eat whatever he wanted.

His mum, Su Jinna, has now put him on a new diet. Vast evening meals, sometimes including two helpings, have been replaced by fruit and vegetables.

When the BBC visited their Tianjin home, Liu Tao was served a melon and a bowl of boiled broccoli for dinner.

Did the youngster like it? "It's awful. It's not sweet at all," he said

Getting people to stick to healthier diets is one of the problems identified by experts hoping to get overweight people to slim down.

Mrs Su also blames her son's weight on China's education system, which puts little emphasis on sporting activities.

"He leaves for school at seven every morning and doesn't get back until seven in the evening," she said.

"So after eating and finishing his homework it's 10 o'clock, and there's no time for anything else such as exercise."

'Nowhere to exercise'

The rising number of overweight Chinese people is, in part, the result of the country's remarkable economic growth over the last 30 years.

Start Quote

There is very little public space in urban areas and even when there is you often cannot walk on the grass”

End Quote Paul French Author

"People's material lives have become a lot better as society has developed," said Yu Baoxia, a doctor at the Aimin hospital.

"Take food for example, now people have access to all kinds of products. There's great variety and people can usually buy whatever they want to eat."

This lifestyle change is documented is a new book by Paul French and Matthew Crabbe, called Fat China: How Expanding Waistlines are Changing a Nation.

It details changes such as the rise of processed food and supermarkets, and the fall-off in physical activity as people move from the countryside to the cities.

"People come to the city and get fat," said Mr French.

Liu Tao is 12 years old

"There is very little public space in urban areas and even when there is you often cannot walk on the grass."

Obesity has been linked to a range of illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

There are now thought to be more than 90 million diabetics in China - about one in 10 adults.

That is a problem for the whole of society, which will eventually have to pay more money to treat them.

"It will put a huge burden on the healthcare system because many of these illnesses require individual long-term expensive treatment," said Peter Ben Embarek, of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Not long ago, many Chinese people did not have enough to eat - some still do not.

Millions of people are thought to have died in a famine in the early 1960s.

But economic reforms have transformed the lives of the people who live here. Many are now richer than they every dreamed - and bigger than they ever thought.

More Asia-Pacific stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.