Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Obesity in China

The British Guardian has a story about obesity among Chinese children and what the government is doing about it:

Compulsory waltzing will be added to the Chinese national curriculum in September under a new campaign to reduce childhood obesity.

From the start of the new school year, teachers across the country will be expected to put hundreds of millions of pupils through their paces every day, the state-run China Daily said today.

In preparation, a team of pioneering ballroom and folk instructors started training this month and video demonstrations of the mandatory breaktime routines have been filmed for DVD distribution to regional education departments.

Waltz seems on odd thing to pick. Why not some traditional Chinese dances? But what I found more interesting about the article was this:

The routines - which will supplement rather than replace regular physical education classes - are reportedly aimed at turning a generation of chubby cheeks into twinkle toes. Student waistlines have expanded almost as fast as the Chinese economy. Studies suggest one in five children are obese. Rising affluence, reduced exercise and the growing popularity of fast food such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds have hit school fitness levels badly. The average pupil today is slower and weaker than 10 years ago.

The Chinese might be conducting a natural experiment on the impact of fast foods on obesity. I suspect that Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds are not available all over China. If this is true it could be possible to compare childhood obesity in the areas where they have been operating for a while and in the areas where they are not available, always taking into account other pertinent differences (in income and rates of urbanization, say). Doing a study like that would be most useful.