Korean men smoke less, but weigh more
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.
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.