In an insightful study featured in BMJ Open, the intricate link between the consumption of kimchi and obesity levels within the South Korean populace has been meticulously analysed. This research delves into the multifaceted relationship between diet and obesity, spotlighting the traditional Korean delicacy, kimchi, known for its low-calorie content yet high nutritional value, including an abundance of vitamins, dietary fibre, polyphenols, and probiotics.
Obesity, a burgeoning health crisis linked to a plethora of adverse health conditions such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular diseases, and hyperlipidemia, has seen a steady rise in prevalence across South Korea. This trend accompanies a growing concern over abdominal obesity, further underscoring the urgency for effective public health strategies aimed at curtailing this epidemic. The escalating obesity rates have inevitably led to increased healthcare costs, highlighting the critical need for preventive measures.
Amidst growing concerns over kimchi’s contribution to dietary sodium intake, which a 2019-2020 survey pegged at 500 mg daily (accounting for 15% of total sodium consumption), the study embarked on exploring kimchi’s potential benefits. Despite the known risks associated with high sodium intake, including hypertension and obesity, previous investigations have suggested a positive correlation between fermented vegetables, such as kimchi, and reduced body weight, alongside improvements in cholesterol and blood glucose levels.
The current study leverages data from the expansive Health Examinees (HEXA) study, a part of a larger genetic and epidemiological research initiative aimed at uncovering the genetic and environmental determinants of chronic diseases in adults over 40. Initial assessments for HEXA were conducted between 2004 and 2013, with exclusions applied to individuals with a history of significant illnesses or lacking in reliable dietary or anthropometric data.
Utilising a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire, the researchers assessed participants’ dietary intakes over the past year, focusing on various types of kimchi, including kkakdugi, dongchimi, baechu kimchi, and others. The study defined obesity based on a body mass index (BMI) ≥ 25 kg/m^2 and abdominal obesity as a waist circumference (WC) ≥ 90 cm for men and ≥ 85 cm for women, incorporating a comprehensive questionnaire to gather additional demographic and lifestyle information.
The analysis involved categorising participants according to their kimchi intake levels and employing multivariable logistic regression to estimate the associations between kimchi consumption and obesity.
Involving 115,726 individuals, with an average age of 51.8 years and a majority being female, the study found an obesity prevalence of 28.2% overall. Notably, individuals indulging in five or more servings of kimchi daily exhibited higher weights and waist circumferences, alongside an increased likelihood of obesity and alcohol consumption.
Distinct patterns emerged between genders; men consuming significant amounts of kimchi tended to be younger, smokers, taller, and more physically active, while women with high kimchi intake were generally older, non-smokers, less active, post-menopausal, shorter, and married.
The study highlighted a nuanced relationship between kimchi consumption and obesity, indicating that moderate intake (one to three servings daily) was inversely associated with obesity risk in men. Specifically, a high intake of baechu kimchi significantly reduced the prevalence of both obesity and abdominal obesity among men, while women benefited from a moderate consumption level.
Furthermore, participants who consumed kkakdugi above the median quantity experienced lower rates of abdominal obesity, showcasing the differential impacts of various kimchi types on obesity metrics.
Despite some associations indicating higher obesity rates among those with excessive kimchi consumption, these findings were not statistically significant. The study also noted that higher kimchi intake correlated with increased consumption of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, sodium, cooked rice, and overall energy.
However, the study’s cross-sectional nature and its focus on a specific population limit the ability to draw causal connections and its applicability to broader demographics, respectively.
While this study doesn’t establish causation, it adds to the body of research supporting the inclusion of probiotic foods in the diet to promote gut microbiome diversity and subsequent weight management outcomes.Read More
A comprehensive study recently unveiled alarming projections that nearly 40% of Chinese children and adolescents are on track to have overweight or obesity by the year 2030 if current upward trends persist. This pressing issue has prompted calls from experts for immediate action to mitigate the looming health crisis, with proposed strategies including the implementation of a 20% levy on sugar-laden beverages.
The research, which was published in The Lancet Regional Health last month and conducted by a collaborative team from the School of Public Health at Peking University and the United Nations Children’s Fund, highlights the swift rise in obesity rates among the youth in China, pinpointing significant consequent health and financial repercussions.
The study’s forecasts paint a grim picture, estimating a staggering lifetime economic toll of 218 trillion yuan (approximately $31.6 trillion) from 2025 to 2092, attributable to the prevailing rates of obesity among children and adolescents in the absence of intervention strategies.
Zhou Maigeng, Deputy Director of the National Center for Chronic and Noncommunicable Disease Control and Prevention at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, stressed that the economic strain posed by the increasing prevalence of children with overweight and obesity is often overlooked, as many related health complications have yet to manifest.
Alarm bells have already been sounded by data concerning adult obesity, which forewarns of the annual costs of chronic diseases linked to excess weight reaching 49 billion yuan by 2030, according to Zhou.
The upward trajectory of childhood and adolescent obesity in China has been startling, with prevalence rates soaring from a relatively modest 8.8% in 2000 to an estimated 37.9% in 2020—an increase of 400% over two decades. This surge has not only eclipsed the global average but also surpassed rates observed in certain Western and upper-middle-income nations. Without decisive action, researchers warn that these figures could exceed 60% by 2030.
In response to this growing public health concern, China has initiated several national interventions aimed at curbing the trend, focusing primarily on enhancing nutrition and physical activity within schools. The proposed introduction of a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, coupled with tighter restrictions on marketing unhealthy food products to children, has been identified as the most effective course of action.
This recommendation aligns with the World Health Organization’s guidance issued in December, urging nations to adopt or amplify existing taxes on sugary drinks as a measure to safeguard public health. The call to action is supported by evidence from countries like Mexico, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, where such fiscal policies have yielded positive outcomes.
Zhang Man, a researcher at Peking University, emphasised the importance of grounding policy decisions in scientific evidence and underscored the need for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of intervention impacts, suggesting adjustments based on observed results to enhance efficacy.Read More
A pivotal conference in Hanoi, sponsored by the government, has recently brought together health authorities and experts from Vietnam and Australia. This gathering focused on exploring collaborative opportunities to enhance Vietnam’s digital healthcare infrastructure and capabilities.
The conference saw participation from the Vietnam Military–Civil Medicine Association, the Health Strategy and Policy Institute under the Vietnamese Ministry of Health, and the Iverson Health Innovation Research Institute at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia.
The significance of this event lies in addressing the urgent need for Vietnam’s health sector to secure resources for its digital transformation. Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Tran Van Thuan, emphasised the importance of such advancements in improving patient access to medical services. He highlighted the potential role of international cooperation and assistance in achieving these goals.
Vietnam currently faces several challenges in its journey towards healthcare digitalisation, notably its underdeveloped IT infrastructure, which hampers the support for Electronic Medical Records (EMR). Additionally, there is a notable scarcity of funding to integrate new health technologies in medical facilities across the country.
Dr Tran Quy Tuong, chairman of the Vietnam Health Informatics Association, pointed out further obstacles, such as the shortage of IT skills and manpower and the lack of standardised protocols and guidelines for integrating data across various medical information systems.
The Iverson Health Innovation Research Institute from Swinburne University of Technology, which participated in the conference, is actively engaging in collaborations with governments and industry stakeholders. Their focus includes the management of patient health records among other digital health areas. However, there has been no formal announcement regarding a partnership between the research institution and the Vietnamese government.
In the broader context, Vietnam is aiming to establish smart healthcare by 2025 as part of its National Digital Transformation Programme. This initiative encompasses three key areas: smart disease prevention, smart medical examination and treatment, and smart health administration.
Vietnam commenced its healthcare digitalisation foundation in 2019 with the nationwide implementation of Electronic Health Records (EHRs). While all public hospitals have adopted Health Information Systems (HIS), there is still progress to be made in integrating PACS, RIS, and LIS systems.
International collaborations have been crucial in introducing advanced technologies in Vietnamese healthcare. Earlier this year, IT giant Microsoft entered its first technology partnership in Vietnam, teaming up with VinBrain, a local AI healthcare company supported by Vietnam’s leading conglomerate Vingroup. Their collaboration focuses on three primary AI healthcare areas: data sharing, cross-product validation, and research and development.Read More
In Japan, a unique festive tradition involving Colonel Sanders statues dressed as Santa Claus outside KFC branches marks the start of the Christmas season. This tradition, a result of a marketing strategy from the 1970s, has become a cultural phenomenon, with millions participating in the “KFC Special Christmas Dinner”. This period is significant for KFC Japan, contributing to a substantial portion of their annual sales.
This contrasts sharply with the UK, where traditional home-cooked Christmas dinners are preferred. However, the issue for the UK lies in the dietary habits adopted for the rest of the year. The British tendency towards unhealthy eating has led to an escalating obesity crisis, now costing the economy almost £100 billion annually and impacting productivity far more than previously estimated.
The report by the Tony Blair Institute indicates a worrying trend: two-thirds of the UK’s population are either overweight or have obesity, a figure that has risen by around 11% since 1993. The economic impact of obesity, including healthcare costs and reduced productivity, is projected to increase by an additional £10 billion in the next 15 years. Henry Dimbleby, the government’s former food advisor, highlights the dire consequences of this trend. He points out that by 2035, the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes alone could surpass the current expenditure on all cancer treatments within the NHS.
Comparatively, Japan stands out with one of the lowest obesity rates among developed nations, a mere 4%. This has not always been the case. In the 1960s, Japan was considered one of the least healthy countries in the G7, with a diet heavily reliant on cheap US food imports post-World War II. However, over the following decades, Japan underwent a dramatic cultural shift concerning food, resulting in the world’s highest life expectancy. This transformation demonstrates that obesity is an addressable issue, requiring a change in cultural attitudes towards food rather than reliance on medication.
In Japan, the “bukatsudō” programme plays a pivotal role in promoting physical activity among schoolchildren. This initiative, coupled with the provision of healthier school meals, has contributed to Japan’s low obesity rates among children. In contrast, recent NHS figures show concerning trends in the UK, with significant percentages of children categorised as having overweight or obesity from a young age.
The traditional Japanese diet, which includes fresh fish, small portions of meat, tofu, and vegetables, is inherently healthier than typical Western diets. Andrew Kojima, a celebrity chef, suggests that the UK could benefit from adopting Japanese dining philosophies such as eating until only 80% full and ensuring a variety of colours and types of food in meals.
In Japan, there is a lesser emphasis on snacking and takeaway food compared to the UK. The quality of institutional food in Japan is also notably healthier. Dimbleby recalls a stay in a Tokyo hospital, where meals included healthy options such as pickles, rice porridge, grilled fish, miso soup, and steamed vegetables. He argues that such changes are feasible in the UK without significantly increasing budgets.
Dimbleby’s charity, Chefs in Schools, aims to improve the quality of school meals across England and advocates for an inspection regime similar to Ofsted for school dinners. Another potential strategy is adapting Japan’s “metabo” law, which mandates waistline measurements for citizens aged 40 to 74, with counselling and incentives for those who do not meet the standards. This approach could be implemented in the UK through voluntary annual health checks in workplaces.
Despite the need for action, the UK government has shown reluctance to intervene effectively. The National Food Strategy’s recommendations have been largely overlooked, and proposed anti-obesity measures like junk food deal bans and advertising restrictions have been delayed. Campaigners are calling for the sugar tax on soft drinks to be extended, but there is little movement from the government.
The lack of government intervention and the influence of corporations promoting high-calorie foods mean the UK continues to struggle with an obesity crisis. As the report highlights, Britain urgently needs to adopt successful strategies like those in Japan to address both the public health and economic challenges posed by obesity.Read More