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No soft options at China's “fat camps”

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Losing game: Children play at a weight-reducing camp in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, on July 22. — Photo: Xinhua
Losing game: Children play at a weight-reducing camp in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, on July 22. — Photo: Xinhua

It should be the happiest time of their lives, but in China's growing number of “fat camps”, many youngsters are spending their summer vacations paying for excesses of the past and trying to change their futures.

Their peers are taking a well-earned break from the relentless grind of schoolwork, a chance to spend time with friends and put their feet up. But in an exercise room in the old Beijing Stadium, about 30 youngsters aged nine to 18 are grunting and puffing away on exercise machines under the constant blare of televisions hanging from the ceiling. These youngsters are on a gruelling exercise regime designed to help them lose some of their excess flab before the new school semester begins in September.

Some have volunteered for this Beijing camp and some have been sent by concerned parents who are willing to stump up 9,280 yuan ($1,444) for 29 days at the camp. Others pay 12,000 yuan for 39 days.

“I take care of everything, from getting the children out of bed at 7 a.m. to stopping them from fighting over which TV programme to watch. It's like being a full-time babysitter,” says Yu Haitao, a fitness coach.

Life at the camp is physically isolated from the outside world. Parents are not allowed to visit, and the children are prohibited from going out. The youngsters only get three specially prepared meals a day.

These youngsters are only a fraction of China's growing contingent of obese children, who were estimated to number 120 million last year, according to a report by the Chinese Association for Student Nutrition and Health Promotion.

The report shows the number of obese children aged seven to 17 tripled between 1982 and 2002. Childhood obesity can be compounded by diseases such as hypertension, heart diseases and diabetes and may lead to mental problems like depression and inferiority complexes.

A 2008 World Health Organisation report estimated that China could lose $558 billion of national income to diabetes and heart disease, which are closely related to excess weight or obesity, between 2005 and 2015. Experts attribute the overweight and obesity epidemic to changes in the traditional diet and increasingly sedentary lifestyles. — Xinhua

China has an increasing population of obese teenagers.


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