Nearly one in four boys in China's cities are overweight, and at least 60 percent of the country's middle school students are near-sighted, according to a recent survey.
The problems are getting worse at an "alarming" rate among Chinese youth, Yang Guiren, a senior official from the Ministry of Education, warned at the First Health Forum for Chinese Youth on Saturday in Beijing.
He said Chinese youth are suffering from "a steadily deteriorating health condition over the past 20 years", according to data from five national health surveys on Chinese students conducted in 1985, 1991,1995, 2000 and 2005.
Each survey, jointly conducted by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and the State Sports Administration, questioned approximately 400,000 students across the country.
According to the latest survey, about 25 percent of urban boys from the ages of 7 to 18 are overweight based on the World Health Organization definition, Yang disclosed.
In 1985, the percentage of the same group was just 0.2, or one in every 500.
"China was once considered to have one of the thinnest populations, but it is fast catching up with the West in terms of the prevalence of children who are overweight," Yang said, adding that this transition has occurred in a remarkably short time.
The survey also shows that 60 percent of Chinese junior middle school students are near-sighted, and the percentages climb to 76 and 83 percent among senior middle school students and university students.
In addition, the survey indicates a physical decline among Chinese students in lung capacity, speed and strength, while height and weight continue on an upward curve, according to Yang.
Mao Zhenming, a professor at the School of Physical Education and Sports Science under Beijing Normal University, blamed deteriorating health conditions on changes in the traditional diet, reduced levels of physical activity and increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
"The sharp rise in the use of motor vehicles and modern household appliances has reduced physical activity," he said, adding that excessive schoolwork is another factor.
Li Xiao, a 16-year-old Beijing boy, said he hardly had any time for exercise.
"Going to class, doing homework, watching TV and surfing the net is my daily life," he said. "I only do sports during PE lessons. At the moment we have about two PE lessons a week."
In June, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education said about 60 percent of head teachers of Beijing primary and middle schools admitted that they cannot allow students to do physical activities every day because of heavy schoolwork.
To improve physical strength, the Ministry of Education has urged primary and middle schools nationwide to increase PE classes and to ensure that students have some time to do physical training every day.
(China Daily August 21, 2006)