Losing Weight with a Healthy Approach
While some mourn the loss (almost) of the traditional healthy Chinese diet - high in veggies, good carbs and low in animal fat - those in the weight-management business are cashing in. Aubrey Buckingham reports.
One of the most obvious problems associated with increased prosperity is the growing incidence of obesity.
Urban living brings with it the convenience of modern transport, which in turn means less open space for exercise, while a greater disposable income often entails a change to a richer, Western diet.
Fast food is selling better than before in China, while sports apparel companies are relying more on the lifestyle aspects of their brands to shift products from workout gear to more spacious duds; sodium is everywhere like it is going out of style.
Already people are taking notice, if the prevalence of slimming centers and expensive fitness centers are anything to show. Billboards, stories high, are adorned with svelte beauties in seductive poses, suggesting that you, yes you, with the right mindset and the requisite thousands of yuan, could command the lustful stares of men and the envy of your female peers.
Global weight-management provider Weight Watchers International is looking to cash in on the insecurities of the body conscious with its recently launched local weight management Website. It also operates four centers in Shanghai.
The site (www.weightwatchers.com.cn) is the result of years of research adapting their world-renowned weight-loss strategies to a local context, providing local consumers with the tools and support to lose weight and keep it off.
"We didn't actually translate the program - the Weight Watchers program is not really translated from country to country," says Matthew Mouw, CEO of Weight Watchers Danone (China), a joint venture between the international parent company and Europe's Groupe Danone. "We applied the WTW philosophy to the program in China.
"We really built the program from the ground up. We aren't able to take the research that we did in America and apply it to China. Beef in America, for example, is different because the cows here are raised with different level of fat."
The patented WTW Points program is the core part of the company's strategy, which also includes exercise, behavior modification and support. Instead of the hassle of counting calories, the POINTS tracker assigns values to each dish. A healthy adult can consume a maximum of 25 points a day.
While the points system covers a wide range of food items - a tablespoon of peanut butter is two points while a whole milk latte is a whopping six points - applying the same principles to the various local cuisines here will prove trickier.
While the company's press release claims more than 20,000 Chinese food items and recipes will be available by the end of the year, the only examples the company is able to provide at present include the ubiquitous and totally Chinese staple, low-fat pineapple salad with skim milk yogurt (one point).
WTW International President and CEO David Kirchhoff tells Shanghai Daily that the company is not simply about "thin is beautiful" and members are encouraged to set themselves believable and attainable goals.
"These goals should be based on achieving health, not unrealistic body image," he says.
Healthy living, unfortunately, takes more effort than many are willing to put in, and many opt for instant results (see sidebar). Slimming centers often prescribe a course of medication, some of which may be harmful, while even more drastic is liposuction - the removal of fat through surgery.
The WTW program works on education and changing the mindset of people to adopt healthier habits. "We see that all over the world there are many ways people try to lose weight - pills and potions and quick fixes like that," says Kirchhoff.
"The problem with those ways is they often have people doing something for a period of time before they go back to their old life with predictable results." Obesity: A clear and present danger
Obesity in China is on the up and more than a quarter of its population is overweight or obese, according to a study published last year.
The August issue of Health Affairs revealed that China is second only to Mexico in the rate of increasing adult obesity as Chinese add more meat and dairy products to their diet.
The study claims the traditional Chinese diet rich in vegetables, whole grains and good carbohydrates with minimal animal-sourced food no longer exists.
Providers of weight-loss solutions are laughing all the way to the bank as the nouveau riche, men and women alike, notice their once-svelte figures slipping away and seek to buy solutions to their weight issue blues.
The most drastic of weight-loss methods, liposuction is the surgical removal of fat from different sites on the body, typically the abdomen, thighs and buttocks. The procedure is performed under general or local anesthesia and about 5 kilograms are removed.
The procedure, which costs anywhere between 20,000 yuan (US$2,933) and 40,000 yuan, is fraught with complications and can cause wrinkled, sagging skin where the fat was removed.
Exercise is then necessary. Weight gain can again put those pounds around the middle, nullifying the fat removal. There are also risks of infection and other side effects, some potentially life-threatening.
These use a combination of diet programs, exercise, body sculpting, vitamins, supplements and appetite suppressants to facilitate weight loss, with costs varying on the amount of product bought.
Some of these centers promote unscientific products, and many people find their weight returns to "normal" after leaving the prescribed programs.
Eating right and proper exercise
The best things in life, as they say, are free, and perhaps all one needs is to stay focused and motivated to live right. If the only vegetables you see come in a hamburger or in the oil your chips are soaked in, then, Houston, we have a problem.
You don't even need a fancy gym, although the many on offer are good value these days. All you need is a good pair of trainers that fit, comfortable clothes and a love for the outdoors. Or how about trying sit-ups while watching telly? The possibilities are endless.