How to End the Vicious Cycle of Poverty and Obesity

A well-known weight-loss clinic on a busy intersection in Gangnam occupies an entire 15-story building, but there are few obese people in the waiting rooms. Most of the patients come for liposuction on the abdomen, buttocks or thighs.

Liposuction is extremely popular. Fatty tissue is obliterated through freezing, burned off using carbon dioxide, or melted away with lasers. A small treatment involving the removal of 70 cc of fat in the arms or neck costs around W700,000 (US$1=W1,022). That boils down to W10,000 to get rid of every 1 cc of fat in your body and is 5,000 times more expensive than the equivalent amount of gasoline.

Another obesity treatment is the gastric band. A band is wrapped around the upper portion of the stomach, while small bags containing fluids are inserted into the stomach in order to increase pressure, resulting in the patient feeling full after eating only a few spoonfuls of food. Some people who received this treatment see their weight drop from 120 kg to 80 kg in one year. The treatment costs around W7 million.

The women in the paintings of Renoir or Rubens have comfortably ample proportions. Lady Yang, known as among the four great beauties of China, was 164 cm tall and weighed around 60 kg. Today, such physical dimensions would force a young Korean woman to rush to the nearest weight-loss clinic.

In times of shortage, voluptuous figures are de rigeur, while slimmer bodies are in demand during more bountiful times. These days, the slimmer the better: obese people face more difficulties getting jobs and the ones who do find work are often considered last for promotion. They also have a tough time finding marriage partners.

Korean society is overwhelmed by the false perception that obese people are lazy and slow.

Statistics show that the rate of obesity among poor people is about 4.5 percentage points higher among those than in the high-income bracket. The poor cannot afford to be picky about what they eat. Vegetables and fruit often cost more than hamburgers, pizza, sausages and French fries, so it becomes easier to consume fatty foods.

Also, poor people lack the time and money for exercise and leisure activities, and often the only leisure pastime they can afford is to drink soju along with samgyeopsal, the popular Korean-style bacon. And the ubiquitous presence of fast food makes it easy to consume high-calorie meals. Modern society has made it easy for poor people to become obese. 

Obesity among poor people is passed down to their children. Childhood obesity continues into adulthood. This increases the risks of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. A vicious circle begins to form, linking poverty and illness.

Obesity among low-income households is a problem that cannot be solved by individuals. The government needs to provide more opportunities for low-income households to engage in physical exercise and give them access to food coupons to purchase fruit and vegetables. People need to realize that obesity among the disadvantaged is the result of the widening gap between the rich and poor in our society.

By Kim Chul-joong from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

englishnews@chosun.com / Aug. 21, 2014 12:55 KST