Obese children a weighty problem for Taiwan

The Straits Times, 13 September 2000

With 15% of teens overweight, and the number of clinically obese children rising, increasingly concerned schools launch weight-control programmes.

TAIPEI—Overweight teenagers have become such a serious concern to parents and doctors in Taiwan that the government has launched a scheme in schools to identify obese children and enrol them in weight-control programmes

More than 15 per cent of teenagers in Taiwan are overweight and the number of clinically obese children is growing, according to one health report.

The phenomenon, which has sparked concern among parents and doctors alike, has led to schools keeping obese children in after class for an extra dose of physical exercise in a bid to improve their health.

At Dali Elementary School, for example, about 30 children have been placed under the weight-control programme, where they attend 30-minute sessions two or three times a week. Their physical data is measured once every two weeks to track their performance.

At these physical exertion sessions, the children also recite what sounds like a declaration of intent, the BBC World Service said.

I'm a very smart kid. When I'm thirsty, I drink plain water. When I'm hungry, I do not eat junk food.

The rhyme ends this way: I'm a smart little kid. I'll have health and I'll have a future!

Besides schools, the fight against puppy fat is also being waged by Taiwan's health service.

At Taipei's towering Veterans General Hospital, parents bring overweight children to a special clinic.

Dr Zhuang Lei-qi, the hospital's chief nutritionist and an expert on treating juvenile obesity, holds regular family clinics, counselling parents and checking their children's progress towards a slimmer future.

It was her research into the diet and activity patterns of elementary school children that sounded the alarm and started a national debate about fat children.

A survey she made in the Taipei area found around 20 per cent of boys and 11 per cent of girls overweight.

They consume large amounts of food, I mean overeating every day. And also, they don't have enough exercise, physical exercise. So the energy just accumulates in the body and the body weight increases, she said.

With traditional Chinese food, we eat very little meat and we eat a large amount of vegetables. But now, with the introduction of Western food, more and more people consume more animal foods and also soft drinks.

On whether the special classes for overweight children will be effective, she said: For the short term, I think there will be some good effects, but it really depends how long it lasts.

And also, because some of the children feel they're stigmatised, they may not be so willing to attend the class in the long term.

Professor Philip Ting, chief of cardiology at Veterans General Hospital, said that any increase in the rate of obesity will impose heavy costs on Taiwan's health system in the future.

He has cause for worry as the age profile of the patients in his cardiovascular unit is changing, the BBC reported.

In the old days, the disease mostly happened at middle-age... but now, even at the ages of 30 or 40, patients suffer strokes and heart disease.