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Post-Olympics, a calorie countdown

The Communist Party of China has decided that Chinese children need more sleep. From September, primary and middle schools in Beijing began classes only after 8 am — 20-30 minutes later than usual, reports Reshma Patil.

world Updated: Sep 11, 2008 23:59 IST
Reshma Patil

The Communist Party of China has decided that Chinese children need more sleep.

From September, primary and middle schools in Beijing began classes only after 8 am — 20-30 minutes later than usual. Shanghai made similar rules last year. Officials ordered schools to add 10 minutes to the daily sports hour and limit classroom time to eight hours.

“Exhaustion can make children prefer high-calorie foods, so obesity becomes an issue,’’ explained a nutrition professor aptly named Li Lite, to the official media.

The reason behind the new rules is that one in five Chinese children under seven years is overweight. As a side effect of living in the world’s fastest growing economy, over one-fifth of China’s population is overweight, and weight-loss clinics are thriving.

Should rising India, aspiring to be like China, be worried too?

“China is far ahead of India in obesity,’’ Hindi-speaking Barry Popkin, Director of the University of North Carolina’s interdisciplinary obesity centre, told HT from the US.

According to 2005-06 data, 14.8 per cent Indian women and 12.1 per cent men are overweight or obese. “China is more than double that,’’ said Popkin, who studies obesity in India too. “(But) there are 100-200 million adult Indians at the risk of getting diabetes.’’

Over 25 per cent of Chinese adults are overweight or obese, Popkin wrote in the July-August issue of Health Affairs. “The classical Chinese diet, rich in vegetables and carbohydrates with minimal animal-source food, no longer exists”.

At lunch hour in an English class in Beijing, Chinese children rip open fast-food takeaway meals. “Almost all parents send them a western fast food lunch. Everyday,’’ said teacher Lian Jun. Young employees spill out of skyscrapers and queue for a meat and cheese footlong, fried chicken or burgers and colas.

The elders call China’s post-1985 youth the ‘spoilt’ generation that grew up during the country’s fastest economic growth. They live on a diet high on bread, meat, sugar and oil, drive cars and slouch over desk jobs, not farms.

Researchers like Popkin warn that there will be a cost to the economy from employee absenteeism, the higher risk of diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and medical care.

The government has pumped in almost $429 million to create over 20 million sq m of outdoor gym areas nationwide. Post-Olympics, State-run media urged citizens to get off the couch and exercise, after 17 days before the television.