China’s urban areas are booming economically, but that trend is paralleled by another one with serious implications for public health: obesity rates have skyrocketed over the last generation.
The number of Chinese people who are obese quintupled between 2005 and 2011, to nearly 100 million people. The World Health Organization estimates that 38.5 percent of the population was overweight in 2010, up from 25 percent in 2002. Male children from high-income families have an especially high rate of obesity.
While conducting a study on this epidemic, Mariela Alfonzo took a three-week trip to China, where she’s been researching walkability in the rapidly expanding megalopolises of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.
And a lot of what she saw wasn’t exactly pedestrian-friendly. Kind of the opposite. In a scary way.
“Driving patterns are a real issue,” says Alfonzo, a research fellow at NYU-Poly. “I almost got run over every single day I was there. And I was being attentive.” She laughs about it now, but you can tell she’s not kidding.
Alfonzo is working with Chinese developers to make Chinese cities more “walkable”. “One of the pushbacks we’ve gotten is that Chinese officials don’t care about health concerns,” she says. “We think the economic aspect might resonate more.”