Korean men are growing increasingly overweight. In 1998, three out of 10 men were obese, but the ratio rose to four last year. The increase was particularly high among men in their 30s and 40s, while there was almost no change in the proportion of overweight women over the same period.
According to a recent report by the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the adult obesity rate stood at 34.8 percent last year, compared to 33.2 percent in 2015. The government conducts annual studies on public health, including obesity and smoking. The adult obesity rate stood at 26 percent when the first study was conducted in 1998.
The male obesity rate reached 42.8 percent last year, surpassing 40 percent for the first time and up from just 25.1 percent in 1998. Among men in their 40s, the obesity rate rose from 33.3 percent to 45.6 percent, and among men in their 30s from 19.3 percent to 32.4 percent. But the female obesity rate has been steady at around 26 percent, and among women in their 40s it actually fell slightly from 29.8 percent to 28.7 percent.
A KCDC official said this is due to more women paying attention to their physical shape and putting in the effort to watch what they eat. One health expert said, "The latest statistics show Koreans may have grown more interested in how they look and what they eat, but still remain unenthusiastic when it comes to actually taking care of their health."
In reality, Koreans' eating habits have grown worse and they are also exercising less. The proportion who skip breakfast is rising, and more men than women go without the most important meal of the day.
One out of three Koreans eats out at least once a day. In 2005, 60.7 percent of Koreans walked more than 30 minutes a day more than five times a week, but that plunged to 39.6 percent last year. Also, fewer people engaged in some 2.5 hours of intensive exercise a week.
Lee Byung-hoon at Chungang University said, "Koreans work such long hours that they do not have enough time for exercise, and the drinking culture requires people to drink and consume meat whether they feel like it or not at after-hours gatherings with co-workers."
Hypertension and diabetes are on the rise as a result. The smoking rate also rose from 22.6 percent in 2015 to 23.9 percent, while the proportion of people who drink alcohol at least once a month rose from 60.6 percent to 61.9 percent. No wonder then that the proportion who said they feel healthy fell from 42.5 percent in 1998 to 32.3 percent last year.
The warning signs are appearing earlier and earlier, with obesity among teenagers rising from 8.2 percent in 2005 and 12.8 percent in 2016. Kang Jae-heon at Seoul Paik Hospital said, "The government should do more to help youngsters take better care of their health from early on."