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AS the name of famous American poet Longfellow goes, all Chinese parents hope that their children can grow to be longer fellows.
With the improvement of living conditions in China during the past years, such a dream has been partly realized. According to a recent report issued by a concerned department, Chinese youth have grown taller. The average 18-year-old male stood at 1.72 meters in 2015, up from 1.70 in 2000, while the average female grew from 1.58 meters to 1.59 meters during the same period.
While growing taller, Chinese youth are also much fatter than before. Based on another report issued by Peking University in May this year, childhood obesity has been growing at an astonishing rate in China. It is predicted that the percentage of obese students aged between 7 and 18 will reach 28 percent in 2030 without proper intervention.
Sharp increases in the obesity rate among the youth in China has a strong relationship with their lack of physical activity, which is associated with heavy school burdens, changing lifestyles, dietary habits, environmental factors and the country’s one-child policy.
For many years, Chinese parents and even the whole society have paid special attention to the academic performance of their children. Even primary school students are demanded to attend various extra-curriculum classes and to prepare for future competition. The squeezing of available exercise time or negligence of physical education have brought about a steady decline in speed, perseverance, lung capacities, eyesight and many other physical measurements in youths in recent years.
Meanwhile, with the betterment of living standards in China, more meat and less vegetables are eaten every day. In a fast-changing society, many parents are under great pressure to make a living and have no time to prepare food for their children. Under these circumstances, many young people have shifted to street stalls and fast food, often leading to them ingesting more fat than they should consume. With the contributions of Chinese youth, international fast-food chains have developed quickly in China.
Quick popularization of electronics in recent years is also attributable to the increased obesity rates among children. Much more than that, due to the one-child policy that had been carried out in the country for more than 40 years, many children are spoiled and self-centered. Without playmates, they also tend to be lonely and are prone to find solace in electronic devices. It is obvious that large amounts of time spent watching TV and playing video games will not only turn them into couch potatoes, but also make them fatter and fatter.
As we all know, youth athleticism is the cornerstone of a country’s competitiveness on the international stage. As the Olympic spirit goes, we surely hope our saplings to be taller, faster and stronger, but definitely not fatter, slower and weaker. During the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, many people complained about the lousy performance of Chinese athletes that led to China’s third-place ranking and only 26 gold medals on the tally. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics, China boasted 51 and 38 gold medals respectively.
To curb the quick increase in obesity rates in the country, The Chinese Government and the public should take concrete measures as soon as possible.
Firstly, every student should have a minimum of one-hour compulsory exercise each day while at school. Since insufficient sports facilities are also a problem in some remote areas, more government money and social funds should be channeled to install sports facilities in less-developed places so as to make them more accessible to poor students in the countryside.
Secondly, schools and families should join hands to ban or at least restrict the use of electronic devices at early ages. Instead of keeping their eyes on electronic devices, children should be guided and encouraged towards healthy forms of entertainment such as calligraphy, reading, writing, playing chess and listening to music.
Thirdly, in terms of catering for students, the Chinese Government can learn some good lessons from Japan. In order to go beyond fast food and seek fine-dining experiences, high-caliber food providers with stricter hygiene and nutrition standards could be authorized to offer meals to schools and kindergartens.
Last but not least, publicity is also very important. All children should be informed that obesity will not only make them more vulnerable to diseases (such as childhood cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes) and psychological problems, but also make them less competitive and less appealing in their future career development and social interactions.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)