Olympics Challenge China to Lose Weight

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BEIJING, China - As millions of Chinese catch Olympic fever, fitness is becoming a bigger part of their lives.

But that's not the only thing getting bigger. China's obesity rates have also increased dramatically.

From the warm smile of the Colonel to McDonalds' golden arches, it's nearly impossible to walk down bustling Beijing streets without bumping into these American icons.

And China¹s waistlines have grown right alongside the new fast food restaurants.

McDonalds and KFC have hundreds of outlets here in China, as do other American fast food companies. The government is so concerned about the rising rates of obesity in this country that it's encouraging its citizens to exercise more.

About 25 percent of Chinese adults are overweight or obese, but experts estimate that number will double in just 20 years.

While the rapidly-expanding fast food industry might be a likely scapegoat for China¹s extra weight, Peking University's Yan Lijing says it only plays a small factor.

"Western fast food chains have only penetrated the urban areas for now, but obesity is an issue even in rural areas," she said.

Lijing added that overall lifestyle changes are a much bigger problem.

"In the long run, I believe obesity will become a bigger problem, even in China because of the westernization of our lifestyle, meaning the reduction in physical activity," she said. "We don't exercise as much and there is much less physical activity in our daily life. Things like we don't ride our bicycle, we don't walk as much and the change in the diet."

These changes have also opened the doors for China's fitness industry.

"China right now is experiencing an awakening demand for fitness because of the organization and growing growth," Ben Xu, managing director Nautilus Chin said.

He says there wasn't much of a market six years ago, but Beijing's Olympic bid has helped change that.

"Olympics is a great force to change people's health and fitness consciousness. The government is spending to promote health lifestyle. I'm very optimistic about the change, but it's going to be a slow change," he said.

Some of this change is starting at schools. traditionally chinese parents emphasize academics. But Cui Xiao Xia, who has taught high school physical education for seven years, says parents believe physical fitness is also important.

"Today's households think having a healthy body is more important for their kids, because health is the base of everything," Xia said. "It's more important than studying, because if you have a healthy body you're (be) able to study [better].

Some students say their parents even encourage them to exercise more.

They encourage me to be healthy, to exercise more. I was not athletic before, but as I've grown up, I enjoy sports more," student Feng Shuofei said.

But for many Chinese students, enjoying sports isn't just about winning. Last year, educator Donnie Pei introduced an Olympics curriculum to more than 500 schools.

"Olympics will bring us more culture, give us a better chance to communicate with and understand other cultures. International communication, respect, and understanding. Four elements we are trying to promote, because China needs it," he said.

Although the games have raised the fitness profile, many hope their ideals will provide a lasting legacy.

"Gold medals don't mean everything. I think being happy and having a healthy body is more important," Xia said. "In our class we teach our students to enjoy sports, enjoy life and do what you're doing happily. That's more important."

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CBN News
Laura Robertson and George Thomas

Laura Robertson and George Thomas

CBN News Reporter

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