End prej­u­dice to help obese peo­ple be­come fit

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Nearly 40 years of eco­nomic growth has lib­er­ated the ma­jor­ity of Chi­nese peo­ple from ar­du­ous phys­i­cal la­bor, but they still seem to have an ir­re­sistible crav­ing for high-calo­rie food which they ac­quired dur­ing the long short­ages of ne­ces­si­ties, even famines, in the past. And be­cause of this crav­ing, many of them have be­come over­weight or obese, pos­ing a pub­lic health threat.

The Chi­nese Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion has warned in its re­cent re­port that peo­ple’s widen­ing waist­line is fast evolv­ing into a ma­jor in­duce­ment to chronic dis­eases.

The rate of over­weight in­di­vid­u­als is higher in the north­ern part of China com­pared to the south­ern part. Tian­jin has the high­est rate of over­weight peo­ple (40.9 per­cent), among all prov­inces and re­gions, with the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion (18.4 per­cent) hav­ing the low­est. Bei­jing has the high­est rate of obe­sity (25.9 per­cent) in China, and Hainan prov­ince and Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion the low­est (5.7 per­cent), the cen­ter said in the re­port.

The im­pact of the obe­sity prob­lem on the ur­ban pop­u­la­tion is not only limited to health, but also has a bear­ing on other as­pects of their so­cial life. For ex­am­ple, in May, two key pri­vate pri­mary schools in Shang­hai said obese par­ents lower their chil­dren’s chances of emerg­ing suc­cess­ful in the fiercely com­pet­i­tive in­ter­views for en­roll­ment in schools.

The pol­icy, deemed un­fair and dis- crim­i­na­tive by many, has, how­ever, been sup­ported by a larger num­ber of peo­ple, who be­lieve that a well-pre­served fig­ure rep­re­sents the qual­ity of life, self-dis­ci­pline and strong sense of self-con­scious­ness, and par­ents with these qual­i­ties are more likely to be role mod­els for their chil­dren, es­pe­cially when it comes to their ed­u­ca­tion.

Yet the ar­gu­ment does not hold wa­ter, be­cause it ig­nores the many and com­pli­cated causes that may lead to obe­sity. Be­sides, there is no rea­son to at­tribute obe­sity to lazi­ness and vo­rac­ity. Usu­ally, three fac­tors can be re­spon­si­ble for obe­sity: in­her­i­tance, en­vi­ron­ment and life­style, in­clud­ing habits. So obe­sity that stems from ge­netic fac­tors can­not be con­trolled by the obese peo­ple alone.

Be­fore im­ple­ment­ing the en­roll­ment poli­cies, the two schools should at least dif­fer­en­ti­ate among dif­fer­ent causes of obe­sity. But that would make the en­roll­ment pro­ce­dure very com­pli­cated and in­creas­ingly ir­rel­e­vant to test­ing a child’s learn­ing ca­pac­ity and po­ten­tial. Obe­sity, as a so­cial prob­lem, can be solved only through the ef­forts of the en­tire so­ci­ety. Some en­trenched prej­u­dices and ig­no­rance drive obese peo­ple to­ward self-abase­ment and re­ces­sive de­pres­sion, which fur­ther es­trange the obese from oth­ers, and turn them into hope­less in­di­vid­u­als. A long-term study in Bri­tain cov­er­ing 5,400 vol­un­teers above 50 years of age found that the chance of obese peo­ple, who feel dis­crim­i­nated against by so­ci­ety, try­ing to take up at least one phys­i­cal ex­er­cise regime of mod­er­ate in­ten­sity is 66 per­cent lower than in­di­vid­u­als who are not obese. The rea­son is that obese peo­ple care more about how other peo­ple per­ceive them and they don’t want to be­come a fo­cus of pub­lic at­ten­tion, let alone a laugh­ing­stock, while do­ing phys­i­cal ex­er­cise. The pe­cu­liar and dis­crim­i­na­tive at­ten­tion from peo­ple around them can deepen obese peo­ple’s stereo­type be­lief that they are in­nately lazy and in­ac­tive, which ul­ti­mately boils down to self-aban­don­ment. It is nec­es­sary to raise pub­lic aware­ness to end the dis­crim­i­na­tion and prej­u­dice against obese peo­ple. There­fore, obe­sity should be seen as a so­cial is­sue. China needs a more for­giv­ing so­cial en­vi­ron­ment to en­cour­age obese peo­ple to take the ini­tia­tive of los­ing weight through sci­en­tific meth­ods, which would be con­ducive to im­prov­ing pub­lic health as a whole.

The au­thor is a colum­nist for China Youth Daily. The ar­ti­cle was first pub­lished in CYD on July 5.


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