End prejudice to help obese people become fit
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.