Today Thailand is faced with an almost out of control obesity epidemic.
Thai women were named the second fattest in Asia yesterday and evidence of a population eating themselves to death is everywhere.
On any given day hospitals are overflowing with people suffering from the inevitable result of bad eating habits – diabetes.
In the last 20 years in particular many have abandoned good diets of rice and vegetable for fast food and 7/11 ready meals laced with fat and gunk.
More disposable income means increasingly people are piling on the calories.
Calories that don’t get burnt up because people are on Facebook all day long and not in the gym.
If they do go to exercise, then they do a few steps then claim they are tired and hot going home for more food, TV and social media.
But as bad as this is, it pales into insignificance by the threat to the most vulnerable group – the nation’s school children.
About a dozen years ago there was a boy at my international school who was clearly obese. At the time he stood out because most of the children exercised and were relatively well proportioned.
Ironically named “Big” I would see him over eating in the canteen. After school he would be across the road with his parents plying him with sweets and ice cream.
When alone he always had money for a large bag of potato chips.
Concerned, I went to the school authorities. I demanded action – I said this was nothing short of child abuse.
The British teachers sympathized but clearly indicated there was mot much they could do. Actually they didn’t want to upset the parents who paid their wages.
Thais of my acquaintance smiled but you could see they thought I had a screw loose. Wasn’t child abuse hitting them in class or at home?, you could see them thinking.
You see they were still mired in the absurd notion that fat equals rich.
Chubby and overweight equals cute. A popular and affectionate Thai nickname is “Uan” (fat).
Buying food and stuffing it into your kid’s mouth equals nurturing and taking care.
Rubbish – overfeeding your child, feeding them fast food, sweets, sugary drinks is not being a good parent.
It is killing your child and you are responsible.
In my house, with my kids, we had a battle. But I stuck to my guns against a wife who thought I was cruel and not being the best father I could be.
Why? Because I threw out the Coke – tossed away the chocolate and crisps – tipped the Sprite down the drain.
No more – we had water with meals. Freshly cooked meals made from good fresh ingredients.
Sweets and sugary drinks were kept for the occasional meal out or special occasions.
Years later my son thanked me for that stand in clearing the house of rubbish food.
But is that kind of thing happening in the average Thai household?
Adults are killing themselves with what they eat.
And parents are killing their children in the name of being kind – or just keeping them quiet with food that is basically poisoning them.
Why haven’t countries like Thailand – and others across Asia – learnt any lessons from the West?
Because the culture that says rich equals fat and poor equals thin is even more deeply ingrained than it was in, say, Victorian Britain.
Obesity in adults and especially children is spiraling out of control in Thailand as today’s news attests.
Yes, the government and health authorities need to do their bit in regulatory measures and advice respectively.
But it is time the people woke up and realized that they need to take responsibility for themselves and their young people.
And stop killing themselves and their kids by overfeeding with bad food and drink.
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