Obesity in China : a terrible opportunity for Western Health Industry

Talking about Obesity in China, let’s first study the current situation (obesity is a massive burden on China’s healthcare system) and then what kind of opportunity we can get from it.


1.    Obesity, a new plague!

In the 60s, China was suffering from devastating starvation which killed nearly 20 million people. But now, the country is facing a new kind of plague: obesity. (source)

One child in five and a dozen million adults are now overweight or categorized as obese in China.

The fast economic growth that enjoyed China in the last decades has led to huge changes in their way of life – people consume more and more junk food, following the western habits, full of fat and sugar, and adding to this a sedentary way of life, it results in devastating health condition.

A survey revealed that if the economic growth of China during the last two decades was accompanied by a decrease of growth retardation and thinness of infant growth, the country also multiplied by four the number of overweight/obese children.

A.  Causes of Obesity in China

The revenue increase allowed households to increase their expenses on food/beverage, and the urbanization of the country facilitated access to better healthcare and educational system.

But at the same time, it’s way easier for Chinese kids to get access to junk food, and as said Bai Li, searcher at the Applied Health Research Institute of Birmingham University in the United Kingdom, they are way less physically active than before. Indeed, “children used to play outdoor during their spare time. But they are now stuck to their computer, phone or Tv. There are many fast food channels in China, and more and more Chinese get used to this new type of food” she declared.

B. What about Chinese children?

Obesity among children is in constant growth all around the world, and the World Health Organization qualified it as “one of the worst public health issues of the 21 century”…

China represents 17.5% of obese kids between 5 to 9 years old, against 10.4% for France. According to Li, an increase in the obesity rate among children in China has been underestimated by a late perception of what could be described as being in good health.

“Some people still think that being fat is a good thing. And it’s particularly true for elder generation. They often grew up in poverty, where food was rare” said Li, who studied the impact of grandparents on children’s obesity in China.

“Grandparents often live with family, and as parents are busy working, they play an important role in choosing children’s meals.”

In a study published in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, searchers used data of more than one million kids aged from 7 to 18 years old between 1995 and 2014. And it has been constated that late infant growth among Chinese children and teenagers, due to insufficient food intake and long-term infections has decreased from 8.1% to 2.4% during the same period and that now, thinness has diminished from 7.5% to 4.1%. On average, the number of Chinese children categorized as overweight or obese went from 5.3% in 1995 to 20.5% in 2014.

The current obesity rate among Chinese adults is among the lowest in the world, said Lindsay M.Jaacks, assistant professor in the department of World Health and population, at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which makes this study particularly disturbing.

“The importance of this discovery is that it can’t be underestimated if we consider that the overweight gained during childhood is maintained when being an adult, which can lead to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and a certain type of cancer,” said L.M.J. in a comment published in parallel of this research.

“In the absence of strong nutritional governance, China should see an important increase in obesity among adults, while current kids and teenagers will grow up”.

2.    Finding the good in the bad, the Yin/Yang effect

No matter how tough the situation could be, we can have two reactions here.

The first one, we cry & pray… It’s a terrible situation and we’ll hope for things to get better soon.

The second one, we act. And that’s where we position ourselves here.

We are business people, active managers, future builders. Our duty is to identify problems and turn them into solutions.

We see obesity, we understand opportunities. But what kind of opportunities?

An increase in the obesity rate among the young generations of Chinese citizens can mean several things.

The Yang:

  • Future development of the Big size clothes
  • A growing environment for the fitness industry (Gym, App, food supplement, and others)
  • A great potential market for the healthy food industry (it’s innovative, positive, and following the government’s plan. They will love you)
  • Esthetic and surgery industry development

The Yin:

  • Fast food are working good in China. There are KFC and McDonalds everywhere. Why not launching your own FF supply chain
  • Who talk about Fast Food development talk about: Increase in Buns sales, Sesame seeds, sauces development etc.
  • Any kind of large furniture. Example: Big size towel, large chairs
  • Ergonomic vehicle for large-sized people
  • Plastic surgery development
  • etc.


3.    Break the dream and start doing!

Whether you’re already established abroad or willing to create your company in China, you have to understand that China is a different world. You can be famous in your home country and totally unknown in China, which is a big problem as China is a marketplace working on the company’s reputation.

Indeed, China has been a country of counterfeit, fake products, fake companies, etc. And your clients will need to trust you before developing any kind of business relationship, whether it’s buying your product, or distributing it. Therefore, Chinese people will check on your company and look for previous customers’ experiences to determine if your promise is matching your result.

So what to do?

  • Develop your visibility: Develop a website in Chinese. It’s the minimum you can do. If nobody can find information about you, nobody will buy your product.
  • Build your reputation: Chinese people believe in other’s experiences. If they can find reviews of happy customers previously buying your product, they’ll trust you and might buy your product as well. To do so, you’ll have to use local Social Media such as WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, Xihongshu, etc. You can also use KOL or micro-influencers… any strategy to build this famous trust relationship so valuable for Chinese people is a must-do.
  • Build a strong brand image and manage your presence on social media.
  • Develop your business with distributors through online platforms. All business purpose is to make money. Once you’ve developed your brand image and reputation, you’ll need to sell your products/services. Understand that China represents 50% of the global e-commerce, and 99% of business in China is happening through Online platforms. Therefore, if you want to be taken seriously you can choose between two strategies:
    • Cross-border operations (Tmall Global, Alibaba, JD.com, etc.)
    • Create a company in China (example: Wholly Owned Foreign Company)

Some basics points that will help you expand your business or maybe create a new one, and target a piece of this fat and juice cake which is China.

Success is in between your hands, choose your side and your opportunity.

For any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.

Who’s GMA? 

  • We help companies to start and develop in the most competitive market in the world
  • We are specialized in digital strategy + execution (because execution matter in China)
  • We are result-oriented
  • Deep knowledge of the Chinese Market
  • We know your target and the different problems that may face a foreign company in China
  • Pragmatic approach (no bullshit)

Contact us… you will see. 🙂

Read Also: China Pharmacy and Healthcare Market

1 comment

  • The Yin and Yang of obesity, good one! Indeed obesity in China means a load of opportunity especially since obesity or even just being overweight is not well accepted in China/Asia. The Chinese government is actively fighting against obesity by promoting exercice. I was reading a few days back that as in the West many poeples buy a gym membership to never work out. That is a fruitfull market.

Leave your comment