Korean men smoke less, but weigh more

The Korea Times - - HEALTH - By Bahk Eun-ji [email protected]­re­atimes.co.kr

The num­ber of male smok­ers in Korea has halved over the last 20 years, but the obe­sity rate has sig­nif­i­cantly risen dur­ing the same pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to a na­tional sur­vey.

In the 2018 Na­tional Health and Nu­tri­tion Sur­vey and the 2019 Youth Health Be­hav­ior Sur­vey re­leased re­cently by the Min­istry of Health and Wel­fare, the Korea Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (KCDC), and the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, 36.7 per­cent of adult men smoked last year, just over half of the 66.3 per­cent recorded in 1998, when the sur­vey was first con­ducted.

The data was com­piled by sur­vey­ing 10,000 peo­ple from 4,416 house­holds across the coun­try. Around 60,000 mid­dle and high school stu­dents from 800 schools were also sur­veyed on ques­tions re­lat­ing to youth health data.

De­spite the gen­eral de­cline in the num­ber of smok­ers, there also has been a steady rise in the use of elec­tric cig­a­rettes.

Con­trary to the de­creas­ing smok­ing rate for men, that for women in­creased, from 6.5 per­cent in 1998 to 7.5 per­cent in 2018.

“The num­ber of smok­ers has grad­u­ally de­creased over the past 20 years, but the most sig­nif­i­cant drop took place in 2015 after the gov­ern­ment raised cig­a­rette prices. This means gov­ern­ment pol­icy played a role in im­prov­ing pub­lic health,” said Kang Jae-heon, a pro­fes­sor at Kang­buk Sam­sung Hospi­tal who par­tic­i­pated in the re­search.

The use of elec­tric cig­a­rettes has been ris­ing, with 4.3 per­cent of all smok­ers us­ing them in 2018, up from 2.7 per­cent the pre­vi­ous year. The data on elec­tric cig­a­rettes has been col­lected since 2013.

E-cig­a­rettes were more pop­u­lar among men, as 7.1 per­cent of male smok­ers were us­ing them in 2018 com­pared to 1.1 per­cent of fe­male smok­ers.

The teen smok­ing rate has not changed much, 9.3 per­cent for boys in 2018 and 9.4 per­cent in 2017, and 3.8 per­cent for girls in 2018 and 3.7 per­cent the pre­vi­ous year.

The rate of non-smok­ers who were ex­posed to in­di­rect smok­ing at home dropped to un­der 5 per­cent in 2018 from 18.5 per­cent in 2005, but the rate at the work­place stood at 11.5 per­cent, and in pub­lic spa­ces, 16.9 per­cent.


The sur­vey found that more than half of men in their 30s in Korea are con­sid­ered obese. The obe­sity rate is mainly at­trib­uted to a nu­tri­tional im­bal­ance from poor di­etary habits, eat­ing high-calo­rie food but work­ing out less.

Last year, 51.4 per­cent of men in their 30s were obese, up 4.7 per­cent­age points from 2017’s 46.7 per­cent. In the sur­vey, a per­son is con­sid­ered to be obese if their body mass index (BMI) was over 25.

More than 42 per­cent of men aged over 19 had a BMI ex­ceed­ing 25 last year, com­pared to 25.1 per­cent in 1998, while women’s rate dipped from 26.2 per­cent to 25.5 per­cent dur­ing the same pe­riod. This is the first time since the sur­vey be­gan in 1998 that the obe­sity rate of men ex­ceeded 50 per­cent in any age group, the re­port said.

In re­gard to ba­sic phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, both men and women worked out less — 40.2 per­cent of peo­ple walked for 30 min­utes or more per day at least five times a week in 2018, down from 60.7 per­cent in 2005. Ex­perts say less ex­er­cise leads to health prob­lems such as hy­per­ten­sion, high choles­terol and di­a­betes.

Peo­ple’s chang­ing di­etary habits also mat­tered. In 2018, peo­ple ate 49.5 grams of fat prod­ucts, a rise from 40.1 grams two decades ago.

The data showed binge drink­ing among women rose to 26.9 per­cent in 2018, up from 2005’s 17.2 per­cent. Binge drink­ing here refers to a per­son drink­ing at least five glasses of al­co­hol in one sit­ting and hav­ing such drink­ing ses­sions at least once a month.

The rate of men, on the con­trary, dropped from 55.3 per­cent to 50.8 per­cent dur­ing the same pe­riod. For men, seven glasses or more is con­sid­ered binge drink­ing.

“There have been many im­prove­ments in health data over the last 20 years, but we still have much room for more go­ing for­ward. To achieve this, co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the pub­lic will be re­quired,” Jeong Eun-kyung, chief of the KCDC, said in a state­ment.

Korea Times file

A man has his ab­dom­i­nal cir­cum­fer­ence mea­sured at an obe­sity clinic in this file photo. The num­ber of male smok­ers in Korea has de­creased over the last 20 years, while the obe­sity rate has sig­nif­i­cantly risen dur­ing the same pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to na­tional data.

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