Recently, obesity has reached alarming levels in Thailand, where 32 % of the population is overweight, pushing the country at the 2 nd place in terms of obesity after Malaysia which is at 44 %. At this current rate of progression and without any ubiquitous intervention by the Thai public health authorities, it is highly probable that one Thai over two will be overweight in the upcoming years.
It is important to understand that excess weight is a lifestyle issue essentially related to the quantity of food ingested and a lack of physical activities. What overweight people need to realize is that any weight loss effort must come from a remarkable and sustainable motivation for behavioral changes. The diets listed in the “quick and easy weight loss” ads give the illusion that eating non-healthy food can be maintained through a few dietary tips which is totally wrong. By keeping the focus on the food intake, the lifestyle issue is not effectively highlighted, leading to repeated diet regime failures.
There are many factors behind the fast-growing epidemic of obesity in Thailand. First, there is a huge gap between the promoters of healthy lifestyles, who include the Public Health Ministry, related medical associations and a few stakeholders, and, on the other side, the pro-obesity advertising forces driven mainly by fast food companies. Indeed, since Thailand is becoming more urbanized, there’s a noticeable gentrification which is the fact that people are leaving rural area to move to urbanized city, which makes this city itself bigger and bigger so it’s an easy opportunity for fast food chains such as KFC, McDonald’s or Burger King to implement there for a good price. Moreover, as we have seen it in the previous article, the poverty in Thailand decreased a lot in those past decades so Thai people’s buying power increased. The GDP / capita is completely correlated with the increase of obesity and more gentrification ( more people in urban areas, where you can find fast food restaurants).
These figures will probably not go down quickly since those fast food companies are changing their marketing style. In the beginning, they were bringing American culture to Asia but after a while, rejection of American culture started to increase so they chose to mix their fast food culture to the local food culture they are in. For example, in a Thai Mcdonalds, they sell “Samurai Pork burger” and rice as a side dish. In Korea they will sell shrimp burgers and so on, to keep their previous customers and create new ones. Nowadays, 45.4 % of thai people (men and women) are eating fast food one to three times a week which keeps increasing!
On top of that, they all develop, through urbanization the function of the drive-through model in more distant areas outside Bangkok that serve the needs of people in their community so they start also to reach the areas between urbanized and rural style.
Obesity is still preventable and the epidemic doesn’t have to be fatal. For instance, in some countries such as Singapore, prolonged awareness campaigns to promote a healthier lifestyle and control obesity have already shown worthy results.
In Thailand, something concrete must be done because Thai population has no real awareness about the fact that fast foods are bad. In Europe or America, people are aware of it, especially since they use the notion of “junk food” as a synonym of fast food because they know the unhealthy aspect of it. It is time to educate Thai people about how fast foods are bad and let them deal with their conscience.