Krispy Kreme Joins Global Fast Food Brands in China; Global Obesity Pandemic Worsening

Diets high in fats and sugars are contributing to an obesity pandemic.

Executives with the U.S. donut chain Krispy Kreme expect great success following the franchise’s August 8 debut in Hong Kong. But the event may portend a less welcome trend, as diets rich in sugars and oils feed a growing obesity epidemic in China. Krispy Kreme is only the latest in a line of high-calorie Western food chains to penetrate the Chinese border—fast-food giants McDonald’s and KFC have thrived in China for years—but its arrival comes at a time when developing and industrialized countries alike are concerned about burgeoning populations of overweight citizens.

Obesity, defined as a ratio of body mass to height squared totaling 30 or higher, doubled in China to nearly 7 percent between 1992 and 2002, according to Worldwatch Institute researcher Peter Stair. This may seem insignificant compared to the more than doubling of the U.S. obese population to about 40 percent from 1990 to 2005, or the more than 80 percent obesity level in the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru. But the rate at which obese populations are expanding is alarming health officials across international borders. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), excess fat in the body can strain the heart, bones, and ligaments; increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, and certain cancers; and cause other health problems.

Ironically, as the governments of developing countries struggle to reduce malnutrition in their nations, they now simultaneously find their health resources taxed by obesity-related diseases. Even rich countries find the consequences of unhealthy diets burdensome: the European Union estimates that some US$155 billion is spent annually on problems related to overweight, and the United States estimates the cost at some $75–118 billion, notes Stair.

One of the most dangerous outcomes of the growing obesity pandemic is diabetes, particularly the “Type 2” version, also known as adult-onset diabetes, which has been linked to being overweight and living a sedentary lifestyle. The WHO estimates that in just 20 years, the number of people suffering from diabetes has increased from 30 million to more than 177 million. It predicts that by 2030, as many as 366 million people worldwide will be diabetics, with the fastest growth in developing countries. Diabetes advocacy groups are rallying to draw attention to the disease by requesting that the United Nations declare November 14 “World Diabetes Day.”

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.