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[Editorial] Taiwan cannot risk taking growing waistlines lightly

A local television news station reported on Monday that 42 percent of Taiwanese people over the age of 20 are considered overweight. The term “overweight” is somewhat subjective and depending on the person could range from having just an extra kilo or two to bordering on obesity. But the statistic is enough to warrant attention.

Also on Monday the Central News Agency (CNA) reported that over the past five years, Taiwanese women’s waistlines have on average seen a 3.6 centimeter increase. The CNA also reported that Taipei’s Mackay Memorial Hospital conducted a study on behalf of the Bureau of Health Promotion which found that 41.9 percent of women have waistlines that are larger than 80 centimeters. This percentage represented a drastic increase from 2006 when the figure was found to be just 28.1 percent.

Men are also growing in their midsections. The same study found that over the past five years, the waistlines of Taiwanese men grew on average just under three centimeters. The percentage of men with waistlines that exceeded 90 centimeters now stands at 36.6 when in 2006 the figure was 27.7.

Of course compared to several other nations, Taiwan’s people are still quite trim. Figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2010, 33.8 percent of American adults were considered obese (around 17 percent, or 12.5 million, American adolescents aged 2 to 19 are also obese). When American overweight and obese individuals are combined, the figure makes up the majority of at least 68 percent.

A study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 2008 predicted that by 2030, 86 percent of Americans would be overweight or obese.

Australia is another country facing similar problems with over 60 percent of the population considered overweight or obese as of 2010.

While Taiwan is still far away from these alarming percentages, it wasn’t that long ago that the United States had a much leaner population. In 1971, adult obesity in United States was just 14.5 percent; the figure has more than doubled in just 40 years.

Should Taiwan fail to begin tackling this problem, the long-term consequences could be dire. In 2005 the Department of Health noted that one person is diagnosed with cancer every seven minutes. Research from the U.S. National Cancer Institute shows that obesity is linked to a variety of cancers, meaning that as Taiwan’s waistlines increase, we could witness a further rise in Taiwan’s already alarmingly high cancer rates. Heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, liver and gallbladder disease, infertility and stroke are also on the list of negative heath conditions associated with being overweight or obese.

When it comes to the average local citizen, experts advise simply dialing up the physical activity ― even modestly ― in a bid to stave off weight gain. But perhaps the most important element in battling Taiwan’s incremental slide towards unhealthy excess weight is taking control of the diets of our children. Too many Taiwanese kids are munching on high calorie, high-fat foods and too few parents and guardians seem to think it’s a problem. Kids who are a bit overweight during childhood all too frequently become seriously overweight as teens before moving on to becoming obese adults.

Many of us may carry around a few extra kilos, but considering our busy schedules and other pressures, we might be forgiven for our personal lapses. But setting up an entire generation of young people for an unhealthy future is unforgivable.

It took 40-50 years for obesity to become a serious problem in United States. Considering the figures cited by the CNA, Taiwan might beat that record unless we start taking the matter more seriously.

Editorial, China Post (Taiwan)

(Asia News Network)
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