Chinese parliamentary sessions 2014

'Chinese are shorter than Japanese, Koreans': Yao Ming, lawmaker spotlight China's fitness problems

Obesity, eye problems and lagging height among youth a sign that nation must improve health

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 March, 2014, 6:10pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 March, 2014, 6:44pm

A National People’s Congress delegate has urged ramped-up health programmes for the youth, saying more Chinese children are suffering from obesity and are lagging behind their taller South Korean and Japanese peers.

“The physical fitness level has been declining for the past 25 years,” said Wu Zhengxian, a lawmaker and a director at the Beijing Institute of Education. “All levels of indicators, including endurance, power, strength and speed have been become poorer.”

“On the other hand, the number of obese and shortsighted students is increasing,” she said during a panel meeting for the NPC’s Beijing delegates on Premier Li Keqiang’s work report.

No one dares to take the responsibility. It becomes a vicious spiral later. The less you exercise, the worse you physical health will be
Yao Ming, CPPCC delegate

The concerns were echoed by former NBA star Yao Ming, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which together with the NPC make up the nation’s parliament.

“Nowadays, [there is] no more long-distance running, no more strenuous exercise for students,” said the 2.29-metre-tall Yao, who was among the tallest players in the US basketball league before retiring from the Houston Rockets in 2011.

“No one dares to take the responsibility. It becomes a vicious spiral later. The less you exercise, the worse you physical health will be,” Yao said.

Wu, who specialises in elementary education, said the average national height, an indicator of nutrition and overall health, was also lagging.

“Chinese males from seven to 17 years old are 2.54cm shorter than Japanese in the same age range,” Wu said, without referencing specific studies.

“[In global rankings], Chinese men rank 32nd with an average height of 1.697 metres – shorter than Japanese males at 29th with 1.707 metres and Koreans who rank 18th at 1.74 metres,” she said.

A previous government work report in 2011 mentioned a Ministry of Education document requiring students below university level to exercise at least an hour a day.

But only 21.95 per cent of Chinese pupils meet this requirement, according to a recent CCTV report.

The state-run broadcaster also said 13 per cent of these students have obesity, while 38 per cent are at risk of malnutrition. More than 30 per cent of elementary school students suffer from shortsightedness, CCTV reported.

Wu said one of the biggest worries was a shortage of 240,000 physical education teachers. Currently, many P.E. teachers work part-time.

Wu suggested that Beijing should foster a better recruitment system and expanding hiring quotas at schools to attract more P.E. teachers.

To make students feel safer about strenuous exercise, Wu suggested passing legislation to provide accidental injury protection for students on campus.