It’s official; Thai people are getting fatter. I’d long since suspected it, but my own less-than-scientific observations have been confirmed in a recent report from the Kasikorn Research Centre. This year, the number of Thai people classed as overweight is expected to increase to between 10-12 million, which is almost 1 in 6 people. Between 1986 and 2004, the number of overweight Thai people increased by over seven and a half times. So why is a country famed for its supposedly healthy and nutritious food suffering from the same problem that affects much of the West?
Thai fast food
It isn’t just the advance in popularity of places like KFC and McDonald’s that has caused the increase in obesity in Thailand. Thai street stalls sell their own version of KFC. It may not have the Colonel’s secret recipe, but gai yaang served with rice, dipping sauce and washed down with a fizzy soft drink has plenty of calories.
Eating out is part of Thai culture. Food is often a communal affair and with an abundance of street stalls and cheap dining options, it’s often cheaper and more convenient than eating at home. This is reinforced by the report which says that Thais eat out an average of 13 times per week with Thai households spending an average of 927 Baht (approximately USD30 or GBP15) a month eating out.
Eating out is most popular in urban areas, particularly Bangkok, whereas rural communities such as those in the North-East of Thailand are more likely to prepare food at home.
Traditionally, a fat child would be thought of as coming from a well-off family able to spoil their offspring. Today, there seem to be other reasons for the increasing number of overweight schoolchildren in Thailand. I guess, much like their counterparts in other parts of the world, a sweet tooth, less exercise and more time stuck in front of a computer has all contributed to the increase in obesity.
Even Thai babies seem to be getting fatter. In fact, a fat baby is often viewed as being particularly narak and may attract terms of endearment like ‘chang noi’ (baby elephant). And yes, being called a baby elephant really is a term of endearment!