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Asean Affairs  4  February 2011

Obesity in Asia follows global pattern

By  David Swartzentruber

AseanAffairs     4 February 2011

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A recent media report highlighting a “tsunami of obesity world wide” focused largely on statistics in the western world compiled by research teams from the Imperial College of London, Harvard and the World Health Organization. The media report apparently interprets worldwide as meaning the U.S. and Europe.

Let’s take a look at Asia, specifically Thailand, on the issue of obesity.

It does not require a trained eye to discover what’s happening in Thailand and by extension, the rest of Asia. Walk down a special aisle of the many megastores in Thailand and one finds both sides of that aisle packed with snack foods. As in other countries, watching TV has now become a major pastime, especially the primetime soap operas that attract a large following.

Turning to other parts of the megastore, one finds a wide variety of many different kinds of bread and donuts. When the major U.S. donut chain, Krispy Kreme, finally opened at a major upscale shopping center in Bangkok, it was a major event and the lines were very long to buy these major examples of a fattening diet.

The traditional and generally healthy diet of rice, fish, chicken and vegetables has not disappeared but is seriously threatened. It should also be noted that Thais, along with other Asian nations, prefer white rice as opposed to the more healthy brown types.

The trend to “eat like Americans” has sadly taken hold in much of Thailand.

A 2009 report by W. Aekplakorn and L. Mo-Suwan of the Faculty of Medicine, Ramithibodi Hospital, Mahidol University, one of Thailand’s top medical schools, underlines the issue:

“The prevalence of obesity in Thailand has been doubled in the past two decades. Data from three consecutive National Health examination surveys have shown a secular trend, as the prevalence of obesity with body mass index > or =25 kg m(-2) in adults increased from 13.0% in men and 23.2% in women in 1991 to 18.6% and 29.5% in 1997 and 22.4% and 34.3% in 2004 respectively. Obesity prevalence in children, using weight for height criteria, increased from 5.8% in 1997 to 7.9% in 2001 for the 2-5-year-olds and from 5.8% to 6.7% for the 6-12-year-olds. The data also show disproportionate increases of obesity in the rural area, which indicates the problem no longer restricts to the higher socioeconomic group.”

Along with obesity come increased diabetes and heart disease trends, that’s well established. With rising income levels in Asia, the “obesity tsunami” is likely to continue.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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This year in Thailand-what next?

04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More

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