July 18, 2005

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The fat (and thin) of the land

Today's SCMP gives a perfect example of the growing divide between the two China's - the richer urban areas and the still desperately poor rural ones:

Malnutrition and obesity are threatening the health of the nation's youth, experts have warned. Quoting speakers at a youth health conference in Shanghai, Xinhua said 17 per cent of rural children under five suffered retarded growth. The figure is as high as 29 per cent in poorer villages. At the same time, obesity is plaguing the younger generation. In Beijing, 12 to 22 per cent of students are overweight, compared with 15 per cent in the US.

posted by Simon on 07.18.05 at 09:57 AM in the


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Since when does obesity have anything to do with the rich, except in novels and cartoons?

Fat people tend to be fat, too, when they can't afford to eat correctly.


posted by: doug on 07.18.05 at 11:14 AM [permalink]

How many obese people do you see in poor countries? Obesity is a disease of plenty, not of want.

posted by: Simon on 07.18.05 at 11:21 AM [permalink]

Great paragraph. I'm reading the SCMP online now but can't find this article. Is it in today's paper?

posted by: Martyn on 07.18.05 at 12:17 PM [permalink]

Yep, in today's lawyer's underwear section.

posted by: Simon on 07.18.05 at 12:22 PM [permalink]

Simon: Go to Mexico sometime. You'll see plenty of poor obese people.

posted by: Joe on 07.18.05 at 12:46 PM [permalink]

OK, I've been to Mexico once, many years ago, so I'll take Joe's word for it. It doesn't alter my main point - obesity is a disease of plenty, not want. Obesity is NOT a major health problem in almost all poorer countries, and it IS a major health problem in richer countries. Is that correlation or causation? Given the richer a country the higher the rate of obesity, it would appear to be causation.

I'm happy for people to point out contrary research.

posted by: Simon on 07.18.05 at 03:27 PM [permalink]

Lawyers underwear? You've lost me.

Speaking of obesity, I travelled through Puero Rica twice last winter. Now there's a place full of large people. Never seen anything like it before.

posted by: Martyn on 07.18.05 at 04:27 PM [permalink]

Briefs, Martyn.

posted by: Simon on 07.18.05 at 04:33 PM [permalink]

Aaahhhh! Thanks. I always do the non-cryptic crosswords.

posted by: Martyn on 07.18.05 at 04:41 PM [permalink]

Cryptics are sooooo last year. It's all sudoku now. I'm finding you can tell a lot about a newspaper's target audience by how easy/difficult they make their Sudoku puzzle.

posted by: Simon on 07.18.05 at 04:45 PM [permalink]

Sudoko? Never tried it because, er, I'm so last year. I did hear that it was (is?) a major hit in the UK.

posted by: Martyn on 07.18.05 at 05:10 PM [permalink]

It is in Oz now too. It's a good little number game. The Standard in HK has started it, and the SMH has it but you've gotta pay. The Sun in the UK has it, but they basically give you most of the numbers.

A good time waster (outside of blogging, of course).

posted by: Simon on 07.18.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]

You said that, not me.

posted by: Martyn on 07.18.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]


''This book helps us understand that the rising trend in obesity and overweight is part of a worldwide demographic and epidemiological transition and that this trend is not a concomitant manifestation of development. The 12 articles presented in the covers the situation in Latin America and the Caribbean but also that of impoverished populations in developed countries."

and it goes on. my point, really, is that thinking that fat means rich is just an old concept that has more to do with movies and stereotypes than the logical processes of daily life. poor people cannot afford to buy healthy food in developing or increasingly industrialized countries.

''Current research on obesity now seems to focus on socioeconomic factors as a primary cause of this dangerous disease and empirical evidence suggests that poor people are the highest risk of becoming obese. This is largely because those living below or close to the poverty line usually have poor standards of living. Arguably their state of poverty deprives them from having a stable diet. The growing numbers of working mothers find it increasingly difficult to allocate time for preparing family meals, leading to increasing dependence on fattening fast foods.''

You can read more here

posted by: doug on 07.19.05 at 07:27 AM [permalink]

those links are all messed up above. i linked to two other articles, funded by ngos that point to an amazing epidemic in poor countries.

china is a poor country more than it is a rich country. hopefully you can fix the links for me, simon, but your idea that obesity is about having too much is poorly thought out, according to research.

posted by: doug on 07.19.05 at 07:30 AM [permalink]

The links worked for me, Doug.

OK, I accept what you say. But go back to the original article. It clearly points to this correlation - there are obese in richer Beijing and malnutrition in poorer rural areas. Or take it another way. Obesity has only recently become a widespread disease in human history. Why? Well partly no doubt because of processed foods and dietary changes. And partly because we are able to afford more food, more cheaply than ever before.

It might seem like conventional wisdom, but your links notwithstanding the causation overall still seems clear. I'll read your links more fully and come back to this.

posted by: Simon on 07.19.05 at 09:37 AM [permalink]

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