Chopsticks are out against the Big Mac

Paul Vallely on Chinese efforts to curb obesity
Click to follow
It was the original fast food - in China at any rate - but the traditional stir-fry is giving way to something altogether less healthy. The world's most populous nation is starting to grow fat on a diet of cheese-burgers and doughnuts. Government officials in Peking are not amused.

Chinese authorities at the weekend launched a campaign to get their people to revert to Chinese food when in search of a fast fill. An increase in levels of obesity - as much as 10 per cent of the population of Shanghai is now overweight - has led Communist Party officials to pledge that comparable standards of speed and hygiene would be introduced into indigenous catering outlets in an attempt to fight off the foreign invader.

How wise they are. Consumer goods are the vanguard of the forces of capitalism. Fast food outlets are its shock troops. And it is the burger which is the standard-bearer of Western economic hegemony.

McDonald's bore the colours through the collapsing Berlin Wall. Early Western tourists into Budapest reported that already queues were a quarter of a mile long outside McDonald's there (and at Adidas, too). And even before a collapsing Soviet Union withdrew the subsidy from the Cuban economy I met young malcontents in Havana who swore that they would happily give up their nonpareil of a health and education system in return for the consumerist nirvana of the Sony Walkman, Michael Jackson T-shirt and an endless supply of quarterpounders.

Now already it seems in the case of China the new markets are succumbing to our old diseases. Good revolutionary ailments like stomach cancer they fear could be ousted by the coronaries of economic imperialism. (Thanks to their diet almost 40 per cent of Americans are now obese; it was only 25 per cent in 1981 - extrapolating from which scientists say it will be 75 per cent by 2050 and, one epidemiological wag predicts, by 2230 every American will be obese.)

Meanwhile, the inexorable conquest of the world by the Big Mac continues. Last week McDonald's Corp reported an 11 per cent rise in earnings and said it expects to post record results this year. It earned $420.4m from its 19,000 restaurants worldwide and another 2,500 outlets are to open this year - a new one every three hours.

No one, it must seem to the Peking authorities, is immune from the virus. Yesterday news came that even their brawniest and best have submitted. Chinese women gymnasts are bypassing the salad bar in the Olympic Village dining tent and heading for the golden arches at the back and loading up with french fries and hamburgers. McDonald's, it transpires, is an official sponsor of the Games. No wonder the chopsticks are out back home.