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Teachers in Beijing Are Being Held Responsible for Overweight Pupils

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Authorities in the Chinese capital Beijing are attempting to downsize a worsening obesity crisis by making teachers responsible for ensuring their students are not overweight.

Obesity rates in Beijing primary and secondary schools stood at 15.6% last year — up 5.6% from five years prior, according to the Beijing Center for Diseases Prevention and Control (BCDPC).

Following trial projects earlier this year, now “every teacher” across Beijing’s 16 districts is “responsible for obesity prevention and control,” says a statement from the BCDPC. Neither the scope of any potential intervention, nor the penalties for noncompliance, have been made clear.

“The local Center for Disease Control will cooperate with school clinics to carry out the trial projects,” says the statement. “They will evaluate obesity status according to the results of physical examinations, and warn the schools which have fast obesity growth rates.”

China is in the midst of a worsening obesity crisis. Rapid economic growth over the past 30 years has led to an increase in living standards with meat, dairy and sugary snacks increasingly replacing what was once a predominantly a diet low in meat but high in grains, soy and vegetables.

China’s recently rescinded one-child policy has exacerbating the problem, producing a society filled with doted upon — thus often chubby — only children, colloquially known as little emperors. Many doubt whether schools will be able to control the problem when kids are so spoiled at home.

“Kids have PE classes at school and sports practice, but when they come home they eat fatty meat, soft drinks, ice cream, cakes, cookies and chips,” posted one user of China’s Twitter-like microblog Weibo. “So how can they keep fit?”

According to a study by the University of Washington, 23% of Chinese boys and 14% of girls under 20 are either overweight or obese. However, that is still not as bad as the U.S., where some 17% of young people are classified as obese.

But China’s weight woes are not limited to kids. According to the same study, China’s 1.3 billion population now includes 46 million obese adults and 300 million who are overweight. Whereas obesity among Americans is most commonly identified with low-income families, in China rural communities are worst hit, according to a separate study in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology.

“It is the worst explosion of childhood and adolescent obesity that I have ever seen,” Joep Perk, of the European Society of Cardiology, told Agence France-Presse in April.

With reporting by Yang Siqi / Beijing

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Write to Charlie Campbell / Beijing at charlie.campbell@time.com