SEOUL, Jan. 4 (Korea Bizwire) — Government data has revealed nearly 4 in 10 South Korean adult men are obese, despite Koreans in general being some of the slimmest people among developed countries.
According to the National Health Insurance Services’ 2017 Obesity White Paper last week, nearly 34 percent of South Koreans who received a national health checkup were diagnosed as ‘fat’.
When broken by gender, over 4 in 10 adult men were found to be obese with a BMI of over 25, while the figure almost halved among women.
The average BMI was highest among South Korean men in their 30s, with over 46 percent having a BMI of over 25.
Only slightly less than 30 percent of men were within the ideal weight range, with 1 in 4 people facing high chances of becoming obese in the future.
On the other hand, nearly half of South Korean women had a healthy weight, with nearly 8 percent being diagnosed as underweight.
When it came to income, low-income women and high-income men were more likely to be obese than others.
“Generally speaking, high income earners are more likely to eat oily food, while low-income earners tend to consume instant foods and fast food. While the income-to-obesity ratio is often expected to show a U-shaped graph, this year’s big data analysis has shown different patterns in relation to income between men and women,” an official at the NHIS said.
The regional average BMI was highest in Gangwon Province, Jeju Island, and Ulsan, where over 30 percent of residents had a BMI of over 25, while the figure stayed below 28 percent in Seoul, Daegu and Daejeon.
‘South Koreans are among the world’s thinnest, but obesity is slowly growing as a public health concern at home’
According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), South Koreans were the second thinnest people among developed countries following Japan.
The obesity rate among South Koreans aged over 15 stood at 5.3 percent, according to the OECD’s annual Obesity Update 2017, leaving behind the likes of United States and Mexico, where more than 30 percent are considered to be overweight.
It’s also worth noting that the National Health Insurance Services uses a much stricter standard set by Korean Society for the Study of Obesity for its statistics compared to the World Health Organization.
However, a closer look into the social implications of obesity sheds light on public health problems such as growing obesity among young people and child obesity inherited from parents.
South Korean children with obese parents are 4.6 times more likely to become fat than others, particularly when their mother is obese, according to the NHIS.
Further details show that infants are also 4.6 times more likely to be obese when both of their parents are considered overweight.
“While the connection between parents and their children can be explained away biologically, it’s more to do with their lifestyle, including eating habits and hours spent watching TV,” a senior official at the NHIS said.
Another study from the Ministry of Education showed that the obesity rate among elementary school, middle school, and high school students stood at 16.5 percent last year, with nearly 7 in 10 students eating fast food every week.
Obesity has emerged as one of the major health threats facing South Korea in recent years.
In 2015 alone, obesity cost South Korean society nearly 6.8 trillion won, according to the annual obesity white paper from the National Health Insurance Service, the third-most costly health problem following drinking and smoking, prompting the World Health Organization to call it the disease of the 21st century.
Against this backdrop, a sugar tax was introduced in countries like Mexico, Hungary, and Finland, while France has banned unlimited soda drinks at restaurants.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)