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Obesity levels in China rising fast, study finds

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Obesity levels in China are rising fast, with more than a quarter of the adult population overweight or obese, as people add more meat and dairy products to their diet, causing serious health problems, a new study says.

Of all the developing countries, only in Mexico is the rate of increase in becoming overweight among adults faster than in China, the study, published in the July/August issue of the journal Health Affairs, says.

“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,” he added.

Chinese people now derive a far larger proportion of energy from fat and animal-based foods, such as meat and eggs, compared with in the past, the study found.

“The classical Chinese diet -- rich in vegetables and carbohydrates with minimal animal-sourced food -- no longer exists,” the study said.

“In 2006, fewer than one percent of all Chinese adults consumed a diet with less than 10 percent of energy derived from fat.”

The change in diets and lifestyles, where Chinese less frequently have to engage in physical activity at work, is consequently leading to a rise in cancer and coronary heart disease, the study found.

“Based on fairly conservative assumptions, the total impact of these nutrition-related components of poor diet, inactivity, and obesity on medical costs to treat noncommunicable diseases, labor productivity and national production are very large.”

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ken Wills and Clarence Fernandez