Tuesday, February 18, 2014

China: Fat and Undernourished

A commentary in Farmer's Daily on China's food and nutrition plan for 2014-2020 raises concerns about wide disparities in nutrition. The country has cities filled with unhealthy fat people who coexist with malnourished people in poverty-stricken villages.

The Ministry of Health reported that 30.6% of adults over age 18 were overweight during 2010 and 12% were obese. This can lead to hypertension, diabetes, and lypsidemia. These diseases are spreading to younger and younger age groups. Some 260 million people were diagnosed with chronic disease, 19% of the population.

Excessive calorie intake combined with low physical activity were reported as the major reasons for the increased number of overweight people. The commentary suggests that change in the dietary structure, reducing excessive food intake, and more physical activity are needed to control weight gain. The commentator calls for better guidance on nutrition. There are too many tempting foods in the market, says the commentator, and too much consumption of meat and oils.

The plan sets targeted daily calorie intake at 2200-2300 kcal/day with half of calories coming from cereal grains and no more than 30% from fats. The target for protein intake is 78 g/day. The plan includes a wide variety of measures that include improving the quality of agricultural products and improving nutrition of pregnant women, children and elderly people.

The commentator says people need guidance to reduce their intake of calories, fats, and salt. He recommends returning to traditional Chinese diets and a concept similar to the old USDA "food pyramid" that emphasizes a plant-based diet with meats in a supplemental role.

Obesity is mainly an urban phenomenon. In rural regions with a harsh environment many people are undernourished. In 2011, it was reported that 128 million Chinese people were under the 2100-kcal/day poverty line. Poor nutrition is considered to be a regional phenomenon, concentrated in rural regions where people are poor and cannot grow enough nutritious food.

The commentary recommends several approaches to addressing malnourishment. One is to ensure rural people have land to grow food. Another is to address the poverty problem by promoting industries that might lift people out of poverty. The commentator calls for integrated approaches and community participation.

Farmers Daily also reports that a pilot project to improve nutrition for poor children was started in October 2012. Two-year-old children in 100 pilot counties are provided with a package containing protein-rich food, vitamins, iron, calcium, and zinc. Children receive instruction on nutrition and health. The project was expanded to 300 counties and spending was boosted from 100 million yuan to 300 million yuan.

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