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Obese population growing in Korea, with estimated 70,000 serious cases

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Published : Oct. 13, 2011 - 20:02

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Being fat used to represent wealth in the old days, when life was hard.

But nowadays, it has emerged as a social issue for a very different reason: it is not healthy.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, about 31.3 percent of adults are likely to become overweight once in their lifetime and the figure is 26 percent higher than 1998.

The Korean Society for the Study of Obesity defines obesity as a status where one’s body mass index ― a person’s weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of his or her height in meters ― exceeds 25. Those with a BMI or more than 23 are considered overweight.

The KSSO assumes most hefty Koreans fall into the overweight or obese category. But up to 70,000 people are estimated to be seriously obese with a BMI exceeding 37.

Whether obesity is a disease is still disputed, but it is a contributing factor to many diseases. The World Health Organization said obesity is an abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents risk factors for a number of chronic diseases. 
Citizens check their weight at Seoul Plaza, Tuesday, as part of a Ministry of Health and Welfare obesity-prevention campaign. (The Ministry of Health and Welfare) Citizens check their weight at Seoul Plaza, Tuesday, as part of a Ministry of Health and Welfare obesity-prevention campaign. (The Ministry of Health and Welfare)

“Obesity is not about looking nice. It is about living with risks. There is no royal road to tackle it,” said Dr. Oh Sang-woo, spokesman of the KSSO.

“It comes with greater health risks. Obese people have higher chances of suffering from the so-called adult diseases such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia and diabetes. These are hard to cure and sometimes fatal,” he said.

Taking into account the adverse effects, the health ministry estimates obesity causes 1.7 trillion won of socioeconomic loss a year in the form of treatment, recruitment of caregivers and other medical services.

The ministry blamed an unbalanced menu. Cheaper, low-nutrition and high calorie junk foods have had a great effect on growing children, the authorities said.

In fact, the Seoul survey also showed that only 25.5 percent of teenagers ate fruit every day and 17.7 percent consumed vegetables every meal (kimchi, the staple side dish, was excluded.)

But 66.4 percent of students drank soda at least once a week while 61.6 percent had fast food. About 72.8 percent ate instant noodles, while 81 percent had snacks every day. The health ministry estimates the underprivileged demographic groups consume 235 kilocalories and 8.1 grams more fat a day than was consumed in 1998.

A lack of exercise also triggered the growing portion of obesity among youth. Only 16.8 percent of girls exercised more than 20 minutes a day.

The government is hoping to raise public awareness on obesity, by encouraging people to balance their meals and exercise regularly. For example, exercise more than 20 minutes every day, eat vegetables and fruits three times and every day, and refrain from eating junk foods and fatty snacks.

“In order to prevent overweight or obesity, one needs to pay extra attention to changing his/her lifestyle. That is by far the surest way,” a health official said.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)