Monday, October 04, 2010

A man with a helmet in Fat China

After the team outing at work where we cycled around the Beijing
countryside I was returning two bike helmets to friends (since the
travel agency could arrange for bikes but not helmets!) when I failed
to adequately answer their question: "why are you not wearing your
helmet to cycle back home?" So, since then I wear my helmet when I
cycle to and from work every day on my cheap bike, when previously I
only used it for long distance rides on my racing bike (about 1 a
year). At first I thought it was weird that I attracted so much
attention cycling with a helmet but quickly realised that I react the
same when i see someone with a helmet; it is so rare it only happens
once or twice a year -of course usually foreigners wearing them.

Last week we went to listen to a book talk. The book is called Fat
China and is one of the first books to be published looking at the
rising obesity problems in china. The talk itself was nothing amazing
though the book seemed better from a quick flip through. One topic
focused on too much was the issue of western fast food. Obviously not
a positive influence but certainly not that important compared to
issues like the lack of sport or fitness the Chinese do. A lack of
facilities is one element, a second is a lack of sport at school
beyond the required morning aerobics before class; a third is the
academic pressure on children and students, and a fourth is the desire
state of Chinese sports. Aside from some individual athletic stars,
most Chinese prefer to watch American basketball or European football
because their own professional leagues are in such a state.
Unfortunately the Olympics seemed to have been a missed opportunity
here, though Guangzhou is apparently making more effort with the Asian
games next month.

The other issue that the book's co-author touched upon, rightly and
intriguingly so, was the nature of communal eating and food culture in
China. It is customary that when cooking for friends (or take them out
for a meal) you should cook (or order) more than can be eaten, and
guests should never have empty plates as that implies you have not fed
them well enough (the opposite of the UK). Also since dishes are all
shared in China there is no accurate sense of individual portion size
and people tend to order too much (though some is taken home in doggy
bags). An issue not mentioned was the Chinese (well, East Asian)
tendency for dried, preserved food, sweets and all sorts of snacks
that are not made of natural ingredients. More and more, the Chinese
are eating these over fruit, sunflower seeds or other traditional,
less colourful, exciting or artificially flavoured, options.

Though the statistics say the Chinese are already fat (over 30 or 40%
in beijing apparently though the definition must be different to the
West) certainly more and more are getting fat..and not just the kids.
The health consequences will be incredible and it is an issue is
certainly one worth paying attention too. It certainly needs more
research and analysis and thus Fat China is a good start.

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