Poor diets harming youth

10:51, May 25, 2011      

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Wang Ziyu, a 14-year-old middle school student in Shanghai, rarely eats breakfast. And even when he does, his meal typically consists of fried foods cooked in the school canteen, "which are meant to appeal to students' tastes".

"I leave for school at 6:30 am every day and find it inconvenient to have breakfast on the bus," Wang said.

The boy, who weighs more than 90 kg, is now heavy enough to be considered obese. Cases like his are not rare among the young in China.

More children and juveniles in the past decade have seen their health harmed by undernourishing breakfasts, imbalanced diets and a habit of eating out, according to the 2011 Report on Chinese Students' Nutrition and Health Conditions.

The report, released by the Chinese Association for Student Nutrition and Health Promotion, was based on survey data the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention collected in four cities - Shanghai, Harbin, Jinan and Guangzhou - in 1998 and 2008.

The report contends that unhealthy habits have made chronic diseases more common among the young.

According to the report, a nutritious breakfast should include five kinds of food: grain, milk, eggs, vegetables and fruits. The findings concluded that the proportion of students who eat a nutritious breakfast had dropped from 12.2 percent in 1998 to 3.3 percent in 2008.

Meanwhile, the proportion of students who eat an undernourishing breakfast, consisting at the most of two of the five types of food, had risen from nearly 50 percent to nearly 80 percent between the same two years.

"Poor breakfasts harm not only the health of children, but also their learning and physical abilities," Ma Guansheng, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association for Student Nutrition and Health Promotion, told China Daily on Tuesday.

The young are also eating out more often. In 1998, the proportion of children who ate out at least once a week had been 1.9 percent; by 2008, it had risen to 16.2 percent, the report said.

The report also found that, compared with the youth of previous generations, those who are young now are more likely to drink sugary beverages. Researchers said children who enjoy one can or more of a sugary drink every day are 44 percent more likely to suffer from a metabolic syndrome and are 31 percent more likely to be obese.

Nutritionists said parents deserve much of the blame for their children's bad eating habits.

"Chinese parents pay great attention to their kids' schooling but little to their diets, which may influence their whole lives," said Fan Zhihong, nutrition and food safety professor with China Agricultural University.

Experts acknowledge that the pace of life in China has accelerated greatly during the past 10 years. They say parents should resist the pressures that lead many to neglect eating three square meals a day and should instill a habit of eating breakfast into their children.

Perhaps the best way they can do that is to make sure they themselves sit down to eat breakfast with their children and that they give their children a wide variety of appetizing foods.

"Parents can give soy milk a different flavor by adding sesame or walnut," Fan said.

Beijing primary and middle schools recently began offering nutrition education courses, a step that experts said provided a means of teaching students more about the benefits of healthy diets.

Source:China Daily
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