One important factor to bring up is the Chinese cultural mentality and history with food, which creates a food environment that can be dangerous in conjunction with the modern “Western” diet. Historically, Chinese people have always been worried about getting enough to eat. Rice crops were dependent on weather conditions and the river levels. Specifically in the past century, China has experienced much political and economic turmoil that has also caused famines and malnourishment. Therefore, the older generations prize food and place great emphasis on eating well and being well-nourished, especially for their children.
People that verged near starvation in their past will not be willing to deny any type of food to their children and grandchildren, and may even be food-pushers. They also emphasize the importance of not wasting any food.
In the past, this cultural mentality worked well because the traditional Chinese diet was extremely nutritious and consisted mostly of rice and vegetables. People spent a lot of time either farming their own crops or going to open markets. Meat was expensive and an occasional treat. People drank mostly tea and water. However, with the opening of the Chinese economy, the “Western diet” has become increasingly accessible. In every city, there are multiple fast food places and convenience stores. There is more availability of cheap meat and snack foods. In every supermarket, there are American brands such as Dove chocolates, Pringles chips, and Coca-cola.
Many children prefer these novel American goodies to the traditional diet. The current generation of parents usually does not have as much time to cook and prepare food as their parents did, so they also utilize the convenience of supermarkets and fast food places. The older generations, the grandparents, are the majority in traditional open markets where one can pick out the freshest vegetables and fruits. These open markets are disappearing as the concrete jungles of the cities spread, and farms become located increasingly more distant from the population centers.
Below is a photo of a plot of land that my grandparents use to grow vegetables. They are the only ones in my family that still grow their own food. However, because of the increase in land used for industrial/residential purposes (as seen in the background), their plot of land is confined to one of those tiny squares.
The obesity rate is increasing rapidly. Because the centuries old cultural dietary mentality, not to mention biological propensity, was developed through times of food scarcity, I believe it is very difficult now for Chinese people to adapt to the current environment with its abundance of unhealthy and nontraditional foods. However, if the government does take action, it should not ignore the other portion of the Chinese population, especially in certain rural areas, that still does experience food shortages and malnutrition.
If you want to learn more about the role food plays in Chinese culture, read this post!