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Affluent People Face Weighty Problem

No matter how much money someone has, a truly happy life may remain out of reach if they are overweight or obese. The larger a person is, the more likely he or she is to be hit by such illnesses as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney failure.

The body is a machine and excess fat increases its workload. Eventually, it can cause the machine to fail.

According to a Beijing Daily report, about 40,000 children in the capital city now have type 2 diabetes, although the municipal health bureau is unable to confirm the figure. Until recent years, this form of diabetes affected only adults, but it is now striking rapidly increasing numbers of children, even before puberty. The World Health Organization reports that approximately 90% of all sufferers of type 2 diabetes are obese or overweight.

Nobody can deny the convenience of life in an affluent city. For those who do not yet own their own car, taxis, subways, commuter trains and buses are plentiful. All of the high-rises have elevators, so no one uses the stairs. But they seldom need to go out anyway, as digital communications and computers allow them to work at home, entertainment centers allow them to amuse themselves at home and meals can all be ordered in.

Food, in fact, is in front of us at every turn. There it is, attractively packaged in convenience stores, supermarkets, department stores and the ubiquitous fast-food outlets.

Much of that food that is so conveniently acquired is more calorie-laden but less nutritious than more traditional meals. What's more, food that is high in fat and carbohydrates generally tastes better and seem more satisfying. As the big food companies battle for market share by offering tastier -- but often less healthy -- products, collateral damage in the form of fat is wreaked upon consumers, whose only defense is willpower.

Moreover, consumers in increasingly affluent China have more purchasing power. People can afford more food and there are more options.

The higher family incomes are often brought in by both parents, who are less inclined to cook healthy, balanced meals at the end of a long day.

Meanwhile, many Chinese people still cling to the traditional concept that affluence can be measured by the volume of food available. The more food the better, and no one wants to upset a host by leaving too much food on the table. Loving mothers still admonish their children to clean their plates, and reward them with dessert.

Nowadays, overweight children are a common sight on city streets, often next to parents who are also plump.

According to research by James McNeal, a specialist in children's consumption behavior, the number-one meal choice of Beijing children is their grandparents' home-cooked ones. Nevertheless, the kids load up with fast food and snacks, which are usually high in calories, fat, sugar and sodium.

Selection of such foods is frequently influenced by advertising. These days, ads are promoting food like never before. And many of these target children, who may then influence their parents' decisions when shopping.

The WHO recommends that food labels provide clear nutritional information, and that those with high sugar or fat contents have a special tax levied.

China does not currently have regulations requiring clear and accurate nutritional information on food packaging.

(China Daily, China.org.cn May 20, 2004)

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