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WHO ATE ALL THE RICE?


Condoleezza Rice yesterday

Despite Thai food being famed the world over as a healthy balance of grains, vegetables and seafood, it’s proving just a little too popular with some locals it seems. The WHO recently reported that almost 1 in 6 Thais suffer from obesity, earning the nation a ranking of 5th in the Asia Pacific Lardass League.

Only Australia, Mongolia, Vanuatu and Hong Kong rated fatter than Thailand in the WHO report. I can understand Mongolia, with their long, cold winters dictating the need for a high-fat diet of mare’s milk cheese and beer, and even Vanuatu, with their “acquired” liking for deep fried spam, being in the top 5, but Thailand?

One of the reasons Thai women are so attractive to farang men is that they are much slimmer than the average farang woman (and farang man) because – it is assumed – of a healthier diet and lifestyle. However, the WHO report cites a propensity for fast food and a lack of exercise as the primary causes of Thai obesity.

It’s certainly true that a large percentage of fat Thai-Chinese kids can be seen waddling around Bangkok, and I have personally observed on countless occasions parents shovelling sweets, junk food and sugary drinks into their offspring like they are preparing for hibernation.

Saturday mornings in one language school where I worked would see kids making their own cups of O-van-teeeen (Ovaltine to you and me). The standard way to make this “drink” would involve shovelling enough Ovaltine powder into the cup to half fill it. This was followed by equal amounts of milk powder and sugar until the cup was almost full. Finally, a dash, nay a soupcon, of hot water would be added and stirred in for no other purpose than to aid emulsification so that the disgusting and smelly concoction could be eaten rather than drunk.

Kids would be hyperactive and disruptive in class and unable to focus on their studies. When it was explained to parents that the excessive sugar in their children’s blood was the cause of this, the very idea was greeted with disbelief, suspicion or derision. Perfectly adept teachers would be blamed for not knowing how to manage their classroom. I sometimes secretly wish that conversations had taken this route:

Teacher: Pong really should cut down on the chocolate and Ovaltine. It’s causing him to be hyperactive and preventing him from focusing on his studies. He’s disrupting the class for all the other children and he’s broken 7 chairs.
Parent: Oh, but he loves chocolate and Ovaltine.
Teacher: Yes, but then he might like heroin, too. Have you considered trying that?

Of course, the point here is that kids love junk food (not junk) if you give it to them, but surely it’s the responsibility of the parents to regulate their children’s diets.

The WHO also reported that office workers accounted for a large percentage of Thailand’s obese, and anyone who has worked with Thais would wonder how even more of them aren’t fighting the flab based on their daily work routines, which usually include 7 or 8 meals.

More surprising from the report was that a large number of soldiers were included as being overweight. Bearing in mind that the report cited junk food and lack of exercise for the main reasons of Thai obesity, isn’t this a little worrying? Don’t soldiers have to be fit and ready to repel invaders? Don’t they eat regulated diets? Don’t they spend each morning crawling under rope nets and twirling rifles and other macho military stuff?

Could this be the curse of the famed and mysterious “inactive posts” that are the dubious punishment of the corrupt Thai officials who are unlucky enough to be singled out? If so, then surely the police force, government officials and politicians would have been top of the pile and far ahead of the army. The spectacle of a plump policeman in an ill-fitting uniform is a regular sight around Thailand.

Whether it’s diet, lack of exercise or big bones, people will always find excuses for their corpulence. Personally, whenever I used to be accused of being fat, I would trot out an old maxim: It’s not “fat”; it’s a sign of affluence.

One thing is for sure. Despite Thailand’s high ranking in the WHO report, her collective citizens still have a long way to go before they are anywhere near as horizontally challenged as those in the “developed” nations of The US and UK.

Paul Snowdon – October 10, 2007

Related Article – Thai Food

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