Curious case of weight gain in China

Meat pizza from Papa John's

Here’s a fascinating article by the Wall Street Journal. As China becomes more industrialized like the U.S., the obesity rate of its population has risen also. However, while it is clear that obesity correlates with poverty in the U.S., obesity seems to be most prevalent amongst those who are more wealthy in China. In the U.S., lack of fresh, natural foods and an overabundance of cheap, unhealthy, processed foods drive children and youth to eat unhealthy and gain weight. In China, overeating of quality food in addition to the consumption of less healthy foods contribute to obesity. Sugar calories from fruits add up and become stored as fat, and the benefits of a diet high in fresh foods become negated by overconsumption.

From such “inverse” phenomenon, a few assumptions can be established about the state of eating in China and in the U.S. China must have smaller availability of cheap, unhealthy foods such as fast food restaurants and packaged foods compared to the U.S. Otherwise, obesity would likely correlate with poverty in China as it does in the U.S. This assumes that the poor would be able to afford the supply of cheap, unhealthy foods, thus sending obesity spiraling upwards for the lowest-class population. Furthermore, the fact that people who can afford healthy foods seem to become overweight reveals that the Chinese public lack general health awareness and education that the U.S. has become exceedingly successful in disseminating. In the U.S., the public becomes constantly inundated with the urgency of taking control of one’s own health. T.V. shows such as Biggest Loser portray weight loss as a game where the winners are those who lose the most weight, and as a result, the audience feel compelled to lose weight. After all, we all want to be winners? Furthermore, U.S. figureheads have often dabbled in charitable work regarding health and fitness, including First Lady Michelle Obama, and publications routinely publish stories regarding health and nutrition.

Now, China’s dilemma also provides a takeaway message for everyone who wants to live a healthier lifestyle. Everything is good in moderation, even fruits and vegetables, and don’t let a few servings of vegetable serve as reason to indulge in other less healthy foods because every bite counts. Remember, eating healthy foods does not necessarily mean that you are eating healthy.

EDIT: This The Atlantic article makes the reasonable suggestion that in China, diets high in vegetables may correlate with high consumption of fats, since Chinese cuisine comprises heavily of stir fries.

About Earl

Hi, my name is Earl. I am a student who loves to analyze food and eat healthy. My careful eye for food has caused me to become interested in the science behind food and cooking, and I write about my explorations into food on my website While I believe in sticking to whole, natural foods, I'm not afraid to work with avant-garde ingredients and equipment such as constant temperature water baths and sodium alginate. I also love photography, technology, and journalism.

21. July 2011 von Earl
Categories: Health | Tags: , | 5 comments

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  • Phyu-Sin

    This is really interesting!!! Some times, I look at really over weight Asian people and wonder why they’re so big. From my understanding, Asian foods (at least the authentic kinds eaten in authentic ways) tend to be healthy, balanced, and in good portions. Especially in less developed south Asian countries, there are more fresh markets than super markets and meals are often cooked to the hour of the meal. If they’re following a general healthy foods then I would assume that the person is fit and healthy. I’ve never thought of overconsumption (of healthy foods) ever being a cause of obesity.

    By the way, I love the new look of Toastable.

    • earl lee


  • Phyu-Sin

    Oh, by the way, I noticed that the picture is Papa John’s Meat Pizza. I think it’s a little too late to sign up for this but through The Capitol Deal (like Groupon/LivingSocialDeal) D.C.’s metro area Papa John shops are offering a free large pizza with one topping for carry-out or delivery.

    • earl lee

      Haha no worries. I’m not one to go out of my way to eat pizza.