Why are there so many obese monks in Thailand?

August 18, 2018  19:37

The Buddha, in his laughing incarnation, is often depicted with a jolly smile and a giant, quivering belly. That model of plenitude seems ever more apt in Thailand, where the waistlines of the country’s Buddhist monks have expanded so much that health officials have issued a nationwide warning.

In June, officials from Thailand’s Public Health Department urged laypeople to offer healthier alms to monks, who pour from temples in their saffron robes each morning to roam the streets collecting their meals in the Buddhist tradition.

Amporn Bejapolpitak, the department’s deputy director general, also suggested that monks add more physical activity — like cleaning their temples — to their sedentary lives of prayer and meditation.

Obesity has reached alarming levels in Thailand, which ranks as the second-heaviest nation in Asia, after Malaysia. One in three Thai men are obese, while more than 40 percent of women are significantly overweight, according to Thailand’s national health examination survey.

Monks are at the forefront of the problem. Nearly half are obese, according to a study conducted by Chulalongkorn University. More than 40 percent have high cholesterol, nearly 25 percent have high blood pressure and one in 10 are diabetic, the study found.

“Obesity in our monks is a ticking time bomb,” said Jongjit Angkatavanich, a professor of food and nutrition at the university’s Faculty of Allied Health Sciences in Bangkok. “Many of the monks are suffering from diseases that we know are actually preventable.”

When researchers began studying Thai monks’ dietary habits, they were baffled. The monks consume fewer calories than the general population, but more of them are obese.

One major culprit? “Sugary drinks,” Professor Jongjit said.

Monks are forbidden to eat after midday, so to keep their energy up, many rely on highly sweetened beverages, including energy drinks.

Full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/12/world/asia/thailand-monks-obesity.html

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