Declining physical activity and a shift towards a Western diet are driving up obesity rates in China, with more than 25 percent of adults now considered overweight or obese, a study warned Tuesday.
Researchers writing in the July/August issue of the journal Health Affairs predicted these rates would double by 2028 unless the Chinese government took action -- with the rest of the developing world likely to follow suit.
"What's happening in China should be seen as a marker for what is going to hit the rest of the developing world if we fail to act," said study author Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina.
"We need to find the right investments and regulations to encourage people to adopt a healthy lifestyle, or we risk facing higher rates of death, disease and disability, and the related costs."
Deaths from diseases linked to poor diet, including coronary heart disease and cancer, have increased from 48 percent in 1985 to 61.8 percent today in urban areas, and from 34.5 percent to almost 46 percent in rural areas.
The researchers blame changes in the Chinese diet, to include more eggs and meat and fewer vegetables and carbohydrates, and a shift away from physically demanding jobs such as farming to more sedentary, service-sector work.
The study also notes the increase in television and car ownership, signaling a more sedentary lifestyle -- the odds of being obese are 80 percent higher for adults in households that own a car than those that do not.
Using data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey, Popkin said 1.2 percent of Chinese adult males became obese or overweight each year in the past decade.
This is a greater increase than in all developing countries except Mexico and than in developed nations such as Australia, Britain and the United States.
Whereas governments in developed countries have taken action to address the problem, Popkin said Beijing needs to do more to encourage its citizens to eat more healthy foods and create environments to stimulate more physical activity.