Over half of Chinese adults overweight, study finds

Pedestrians walk in Chengdu, China

Over half of adults in China, or more than half a billion people, are now overweight, an official report has found, the figures have risen significantly since 2002, when 29% of adults were overweight.

The country’s rapid economic growth in recent decades has led to major changes to lifestyle, diet and exercise habits. In October, the Chinese government unveiled plans to tackle rising levels of obesity, a higher body mass increases the risk for a number of diseases including heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The issue of obesity has come under renewed focus during the pandemic as studies showed that overweight or obese individuals are more likely to suffer severe complications or death from Covid-19. The National Health Commission report, released on Wednesday, found that more than 50% of adults are classified as overweight, of whom 16.4% are obese.

The report blamed decreasing levels of physical activity for the country’s expanding waistlines, with less than a quarter of the adult population exercising at least once a week, a growing appetite for meat and a low consumption of fruit were also identified as factors behind the rise. Wang Dan, a nutritionist in the city of Harbin, told the AFP news agency that many adults in the country now “exercise too little, are under too much pressure, and have an unhealthy work schedule”. China is not the only country to have seen an increase in the number of overweight or obese people in recent years.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that levels of obesity across the world had tripled since 1975, including in low and middle-income countries, almost 40% of adults were overweight in 2016 and around 13% were obese, according to the WHO’s own estimates. The tiny Gulf state of Qatar is one of the worst-affected countries, with more than 70% of people overweight or obese.

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