The Korea Herald


Childhood obesity in Korea twice as common in boys: OECD

By 이다영

Published : Nov. 9, 2015 - 18:55

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 Boys in South Korea are nearly twice as likely to be obese than girls, a new report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed.

According to the report Health at a Glance 2015, 26.4 percent of boys aged 5-17 were either overweight or obese as of 2013. Meanwhile, only 14.1 percent of girls had the same health condition.

The gender disparity in Korea was significantly high considering the OECD average for childhood obesity was 24.3 percent for boys and 22.1 percent for girls. 
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Local experts pointed out that Korea’s popular culture and social pressure on young girls may play a factor in the statistics.

The only country that had a higher gender disparity in obesity than South Korea among the OECD was Poland, where 21.2 percent of male children were obese while only 8.5 percent of their female counterparts were experiencing the same condition.

“I think young girls are more conscious about their body image than their male counterparts,” said researcher Kim Min-jeong from the Korea Health Promotion Foundation. “While the number of obese male schoolchildren has been increasing in recent years, the same did not happen among young girls.”

While avoiding obesity is important for all teenagers regardless of gender, local studies previously showed that more than 90 percent of Korean bulimia patients were women. According to a 2013 study by the National Health Insurance Service Ilsan Hospital, a total of 1,796 Koreans sought medical help for the eating disorder that year. Among them, 93.9 percent, 1,684 people, were women, while only 6.2 percent were men.

About 70 percent of the female bulimia patients were in their 20s and 30s. The study, whose coauthors included a psychiatrist, suggested that the country’s strong emphasis on young women’s personal appearance may be linked to the statistics.

Meanwhile, obesity has emerged as a major health threat in Korea in recent years. According to a study released by the National Health Insurance Service in August, the number of obese Koreans -- those with a BMI of 30 or above -- accounted for 4.2 percent of the entire population in 2012, up from 2.5 percent in 2002.

One in 17 South Koreans will be obese in 2025 if the current trend continues, the report said.

By Claire Lee (