health

Obesity among Asia-Pacific children a growing health crisis

10 Comments
By Michael Taylor

Obesity rates among children in Asia-Pacific are rising at a rapid rate, and more action is needed to encourage healthier lifestyles and ease pressure on fledgling healthcare systems, researchers said.

The number of overweight children under five rose 38 percent between 2000 and 2016 in the region, and the problem is growing, said Sridhar Dharmapuri, a food safety and nutrition officer at the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Bangkok.

"The rate of growth in obesity in Asia-Pacific is higher than in many other countries," Dharmapuri told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"While the United States leads the way on obesity rates, the number of overweight children in Asia-Pacific is rising rapidly, and many countries in this region are now among the most health-threatened in the world."

Adult obesity rates are highest in the United States, Mexico, New Zealand and Hungary, and lowest in Japan and South Korea, according to a report on member states by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But the rapid rise in obesity among young people in Asia-Pacific is worrying because overweight children are at higher risk of becoming obese as adults and then developing serious health problems like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and liver disease.

Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand are among the most overweight countries in Southeast Asia, while Samoa, Tonga and Nauru are the most overweight in the Pacific. Australia also has high rates of obesity.

Many of these nations are also struggling to tackle malnutrition among their citizens.

The cost to the Asia-Pacific region of citizens being overweight or obese is $166 billion a year, a recent report by the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) said.

Rising wealth levels over the last 20 years have played a major role in the rise in obesity levels, researchers say.

"The region has undergone economic growth, so food has become available at a relatively cheaper price," said Matthias Helble, an economist at the ADBI in Tokyo.

"For the last 20 years the economic growth has been almost uninterrupted," said Helble, who has researched obesity levels in the region for three years.

The "obesity time bomb" will be discussed by the 46 member governments attending the FAO conference for Asia and the Pacific, which starts in Fiji from Monday.

LIFESTYLE CHOICES

In addition to consuming more, as economies have grown, people in Asia-Pacific have moved away from farming into manufacturing, and then to service sector jobs - which are more sedentary, researchers said.

Cities in Asia-Pacific have also seen unprecedented growth over the last two decades; this year more than half the region's population will for the first time be urban, the United Nations has estimated.

City-dwellers in Asia-Pacific can spend hours commuting - due to poor transport systems and infrastructure - and when they finally reach home they have little time to cook. Many opt to eat out.

This new lifestyle has caused a rise in the consumption of convenience and processed foods, which often contain excess fats and more salt and sugar, researchers said.

People in the region also struggle to maintain a balanced diet, said Dharmapuri, with meals often lacking vegetables.

"The diet is largely rice-based," he said. "On anybody's plate, rice takes up between 50-70 percent of the space."

When people are overweight they often suffer from other health problems, economists said, and this is likely to put pressure on public healthcare systems that are only just being established in many Asia-Pacific nations.

Absenteeism from work is also higher among obese people, said Helble, adding that overweight people often die earlier than those who lead healthy lives, so have a shorter productive life.

"The term 'obesogenic environment' has been used to describe an environment that promotes obesity among individuals and populations," Elizabeth Ingram of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare - a government statistics agency - said by email.

"It includes physical, economic, political, and sociocultural factors."

Fixing the problem will likely take years, and researchers said a joint effort by business and governments was needed.

Better labeling on foods to promote healthier options, education about healthier diets and lifestyles, and even healthier school meals would improve the situation, analysts said.

"Being obese can also be seen as a sign of prosperity, because you have enough food to show your wealth through the fact that you have a lot to eat," said Helble.

Sugar taxes, which have been introduced or are being discussed in the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia, are also one way to change people's mindset, he added.

Building more sports facilities at schools and ensuring urban planners include recreational areas for cities and make them more walkable and less polluted, is also crucial.

Governments must work with retailers, like in Singapore, to create a coordinated approach on packaging and promote a balanced diet, researchers said.

Working with retailers to ban unhealthy and sweet foods from checkout areas, and pushing street vendors to switch from fried foods to healthier, more traditional options, are also key.

And countries should adopt a "farm to fork" approach, which encourages farmers to diversify what they grow and be less reliant on growing just rice, said Dharmapuri.

"In some Pacific island countries, it's actually easier to buy soft drinks and processed foods than buy fruits and vegetables," said Dharmapuri. "It's almost a delicacy to have a vegetable in a restaurant."

© Thomson Reuters Foundation

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.

10 Comments
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Chips, candy, sodas. A winning combination.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Why can't those that are politically against Fat Shaming see these stats and learn about how obesity is so bad. In America, and on lots of news sites, obesity is being looked at as the new normal, and stories promoting huge women, but not men yet, as examples of being fat does not make you ugly or sick. It is so wrong. Fat models wearing bikinis is becoming the norm. Ridiculous.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

"In some Pacific island countries, it's actually easier to buy soft drinks and processed foods than buy fruits and vegetables,"

This is another red herring in the fat debate. The only problem is eating too much. It really doesn't matter if you get your calories from eating processed foods instead of vegetables. When it comes to weightloss, calories are calories. You can lose as much weight as you want by eating only pizza and frozen french fries provided you limit your portions. And you can drink as much Diet or Coca Cola Zero as you want. You will not starve to death if you limit yourself to a slice of pizza for breakfast, a slice for lunch and 200 grams of fries for dinner (about 1000 calories per day). It's very achievable and the weight will instantly start disappearing if you are obese.

In fact, processed foods made by multinational companies are extremely helpful because they provide accurate calorie counts on the package. They are also usually processed to have far fewer calories than they otherwise would have if you decided to cook something similar at home from scratch (using higher calorie oils, or real sugar instead of artificial sweetners).

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand are among the most overweight countries in Southeast Asia

I've been to Singapore a few times and never got the general impression people were overweight. Of course it's all relative, but that statement surprised me.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Yeah, we're gonna fix obesity in Asia-pacific, cos, you know, we were so successful at fixing it in the West...

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Too many people love those American Restaurants :)

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Calories are NOT calories. Processed calories are very different from natural calories for how they affect humans. Processed calories often leave people hungry, not satiated. Real foods that are closer to nature are more filling and help the same number of calories lead to weight control.

Portion control alone doesn't lead to long term weight loss. Nobody has enough willpower for that to work more than a few months, and definitely not for years, decades.

If calories were all the same to a human and all it took was self-control, wouldn't there be fewer obese people?

Natural sweeteners are understood by our bodies. Artificial sweeteners may not have all the calories, but they cause most of the other side-effects in the body.

Most wheat used today is a genetically modified version that has an interesting side effect. It makes humans hungry. http://time.com/4427147/9-foods-that-make-you-hungrier/

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Sorry theFu but your comment is rather unscientific. I think repeating unscientific myths and deny basic science are the main reason so many obese people struggle on various diets and never get the honest truth behind weight loss. The science is very simple but the weightloss industry attempts to make it complicated in order to sell diet products, health plans and gym memberships.

*Calories are NOT calories.** Processed calories are very different from natural calories for how they affect humans. Processed calories often leave people hungry, not satiated.*

Calories are a unit of energy. They are not capable of satiating or leaving people hungry. If you are claiming that foods differ in calorie counts and affect the body in other ways, I would certainly agree. But calories are calories. They do not differ, in the exact same way that a meter does not differ depending on what you are measuring.

Portion control alone doesn't lead to long term weight loss. Nobody has enough willpower for that to work

'Willpower' and self control are largely mental health issues, not something that debunks the laws of thermodynamics stated in my previous comment. You only need to watch the thousands of videos on Youtube of formerly obese people who became slim to realise what is achievable with portion control.

If calories were all the same to a human and all it took was self-control, wouldn't there be fewer obese people?

No, not when you consider that most people in the 21st century are living extremely sedentary lifestyles, work in front of a computer all day, and suffer from all sorts of modern stresses.

Artificial sweeteners may not have all the calories, but they cause most of the other side-effects in the body.

Yes, side effects like reducing appetite and allowing people to drink as much artificially sweetened soda as they like without gaining additional weight. Not bad for people who want to lose weight.

Most wheat used today is a genetically modified version that has an interesting side effect. It makes humans hungry.

Nobody is forcing you to eat the wheat (or to eat the slice of pizza if you still feel hungry) . It's all about portion control and self control. Once you have that slice of GMO toast for breakfast, don't eat anything else until lunch. If you are still hungry, switch to a different type of bread with the same calorie count. If you count every calorie that goes into your mouth and stick to your limit, you will lose weight. The trick is to find foods with the lowest calorie density so that you can eat as much as possible within your limit.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I think theFu has the right idea, but worded it a little incorrectly, which M3x3 mostly cleared up. That said:

Yes, side effects like reducing appetite and allowing people to drink as much artificially sweetened soda as they like without gaining additional weight.

Recent research is indicating that artificial sweetners can in fact lead to weight gain, as they mess with your body's metabolism:

Part of the reason may be that low-calorie sweeteners appear to increase “sweet taste receptors” in abdominal fat, and that allows glucose to enter the cells more readily, the researchers believe.

Basically, these receptors are looking for a sweet fix, and low-cal sweeteners—which are often several-fold sweeter than sugar—satisfy that need. Researchers noted that those who regularly consume artificial sweeteners had 2.5-fold higher sweet taste receptor overexpression than those who don’t eat the stuff.

As more glucose enters the cells as a result of these receptors, the body absorbs it into the bloodstream, raising blood sugar levels in the body. This process often leads to abdominal fat storage, too. Over time, that can mess with your metabolism, leading to greater fat production.

https://www.menshealth.com/weight-loss/a19544903/artificial-sweetener-and-weight-gain/

As for portion control, it can be hard at first, but over time you get used to it and it is not hard at all. When I first moved to Japan, I was always hungry, as the portions were small. But now when I go overseas to western countries, I rarely finish meals, as they are much more than I usually eat.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Hi Strangerland,

Thanks for the link to the study. I certainly agree that the jury is still out on the overall health benefits of low calorie sweeteners. However, the effects mentioned in the study would obviously only affect people who are consuming more calories than their metabolism is burning (which is something I would advise avoiding). If they need to burn every calorie they consume, the body will never have the chance to store fat. The study itself seems to highlight that the phenomenon was found: 'especially in people who are already obese' so maybe they should stick to water until they get their potrtions under control.

As a bit of a rant, I'd also add that the promotion of 'health' and 'balanced diet' are probably the biggest obstacles that overweight people face when they seek out information on losing weight. It's actually infinitely easier to lose weight by eating a carefully planned but unbalanced diet (ie. 75% potatoes) than it is to lose weight with the supposedly 'healthy and balanced' diets that nutritionists promote all over the internet. Weightloss and nutrition are actually two very seperate things but nutritionists often act as gatekeepers to weightloss and infantilise overweight people by dismissing their real desire for rapid weightloss and instead promoting a slower and less effective 'healthy' alternative diets (ie. low carb/high carb/protien only/no protien etc) which often end up failing. It's ultimately a battle of basic information on the laws of thermodynamics and on how the body functions.

As for portion control, it can be hard at first, but over time you get used to it and it is not hard at all.

I totally agree. I've been on a cut for the past week or so and my calorie intake for the past 5 days has been under 600 per day. I'm probably a bit more tired by the end of the day (and maybe a bit more irritable) but I'm not feeling any sort of burning hunger. Potatoes, (mashed, baked, grilled, boiled), a bit of cheese for satiation and a GariGari Kun for dessert are low enough calorie to keep me filled up. Once I reach my target weight I'll go back to a balanced diet and even have a few Krispy Kreme donuts.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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