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Chinese Grandparents Are Making Their Grandchildren Fat

China's youth now has a growing obesity epidemic. The primary culprit? Their sweet old grans, according to a new study.
July 29, 2015, 8:15pm
Photo via Flickr user John Orford

Italians, Jews, Cubans—as far as cultures in which a grandparent's greatest joy is to see their brood eat are concerned, they're the perfect trifecta. The allies of overeating. "Mangia!" "Eat bubbeleh!" "Tiene hambre?" These are words that will resonate with overstuffed grandkids everywhere.

Now, researchers have scientifically proven that we can add a new culture to the list: the Chinese. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity recently featured a study that looked at four communities and the behaviors of grandparents in the cities of Guangzhou and Hechi, both found in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

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The study reveals that in China, attitudes prevail that a fat grandchild is a healthy grandchild. Hell, who could blame them? Besides befriending ducks and sipping Sanka, what else other than eating and feeding others do older people have to look forward to anyway?

Chinese grandparents, researchers found, commonly let their grandkids overeat and don't encourage exercise. This is a special problem in China because many grandparents act as primary caretakers while parents work. Therefore, Chinese children have been getting fatter on average over the last decade.

This is especially concerning because China, like much of the rest of the world, has an obesity problem. One third of adults and 10 percent of kids there are overweight.

The problem with grandparents in China, researchers say, begins with "inappropriate perception"—meaning, they think fat kids are good kids. A further problem they've observed is lack of knowledge about health and nutrition—many of these well-meaning grandparents believe obesity-related diseases can only happen in adults.

Researchers also found that the Chinese grandparents studied believe that fatty food is the most nutritious. The final issue is that the grandparents don't agree with parents or teachers about the healthiest way to feed kids. In other words, the whole situation is a complete shitshow when it comes to keeping grandchildren healthy.

(I, for one, happen to have two Jewish grandmothers, and it would be an understatement to call my survival from that deli-drenched hellscape a slimming experience.)

Children being cared for by their grandparents were much more likely to be obese and to consume sugar-filled drinks and unhealthy snacks than kids who were mainly cared for by their parents or another adult. Even halfway around the world, it's the latchkey kids that get to have all the fun.

The researchers' conclusion? "Involvement of grandparents in childcare is an important factor contributing to childhood obesity in China. Future preventive interventions should include strategies that target grandparents."

Watch out, grandparents. It's diet time for the kids in China.