Who Is To Blame For Fat Chinese Kids? Who Will Be Blamed?

Monday, July 14, 2008 12:55
Posted in category The Big Picture

3 weeks ago my staff and I celebrated the opening of the new Wujiang Road food street. It was a great day as we had grown tired of all the other food, but when we got down there we realized that we should have eaten first and then gone down there.

3 Coffee shops – Starbucks, Coffee Bean, and Costa coffee
4 Ice Cream Stores – Hagen Daza, DQ, and Cold Stone (not open yet)
Several bakeries – 85 Degrees, Bakerzin (not open yet)

The only think missing was two dentists on each side of the block waiting for people to wobble out.

Today while working on a project, I took the metro from the office to Loushanguan Road and noticed that there was a cold stone creamery, KFC, and Starbucks just outside the tunnel.. the same is true at Zhongshan Park (1 stop away), at Nanjing West Station (3 stops away), at People’s Square (4 stops away)…. and so on.

A trend that I noticed 15 years ago in Tokyo, the encroachment of western food into Asia has according to many scientists, dietitians, and sociologists changed the societies they franchise in. 15 years ago, I believe Tokyo was #2 for most McDonald’s in the world…

None of the three professionals mentioned above, I did notice that younger kids were rounder, and I noticed that they had sever acne… traits their parents did not have….and was something I began seeing when I moved to Shanghai 5 years ago (Beijing 7 years ago did not have the pattern of concentrations that shanghai had).

During my time in Tokyo, there wasn’t being a lot said, however in China a lot of studies are being conducted.. and a lot of announcements are being made.. and through all this, I am wondering what exposure foreign brands have to what could become a nasty time.

We have all seen what can happen when Chinese consumers band together online, and in that forum, it is not necessarily about right and wrong.

It is about perceptions.

Perceptions that are based in the fact that at every metro stop in Shanghai you will see a KFC, a Starbucks, a Cold Stone Creamery…

Where this post is going is into what I hope is a debate.

Over the last 5 years, big food has begun taking some of the same steps as tobacco did 15-20 years ago, and I am curious to know what readers think about the role of western food in China (or anywhere else for that matter).

What is the possibility that Chinese consumers will begin marching against the Ronald McDonald?

Are brands at risk of being successfully sued here vs. in the US? i.e. would it be easier to “prove” whatever evidence would be presented?

Should these firms do anything to head off any future problems?

Should Western firms offer the same “healthy” items in China as they do in the west?

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7 Responses to “Who Is To Blame For Fat Chinese Kids? Who Will Be Blamed?”

  1. Chris says:

    July 15th, 2008 at 1:46 am

    Whatever happened to personal responsibility? I just don’t get it . . .

  2. Tim says:

    July 15th, 2008 at 7:26 am

    Personally responsibile eating presupposes you know what you’re actually eating.

    They don’t know. Chinese people aren’t used to having to research the exact contents of their food. Nobody checks stir fried vegetables or tofu for it’s trans-fat and sodium content.

    And it’s an issue of CSR. If people don’t know what you’re selling them, if they don’t understand the side-effects, then you should inform them. THEN they can exercise personal responsibility and make informed decisions about whether or not to eat it.

  3. Rich says:

    July 15th, 2008 at 11:25 am

    @ Chris

    I am a big believer in personal responsibility, and I am often dismayed to see a parent juicing up their 5 year olds on ice cream and french fries.

    That said, Big Food has come under a lot of pressure in the US for the role their products play in a larger health picture, and to date they have largely been able to successfully defend themselves.

    The question for me though, are they more at risk here in China where their business models have been very successful to date overall?

  4. Ron says:

    July 15th, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    I agree with personal responsibility. Our niece (Chinese) lives in a small town outside of Nanjing is two years old and is fat! They have no McDonalds, no KFC, no Western restaurants. If you look at our nieces Mom and Grandma, they are both obese. It is the diet that makes a person fat, not a certain food. Plus, McD’s places their nutritional information on all their foods here in Nanjing (assuming elsewhere too).

  5. Rich says:

    July 16th, 2008 at 1:23 am

    @ Tim/ Ron

    McD’s does offer some measure of consumer awareness as to the ingredients.. the question comes down to whether or not that makes a difference.

    Not trying to insult the intelligence of anyone, but many nutritionists are still debating the basics, and given trans-fats are probably a new term to most Chinese, I am not sure this information really means anything or would enable them to make a responsible decision.

    As for the genetics vs consumption question, I once saw a study that did link the consumption of hot dogs and its genetic impact. Ironically enough, I forwarded it to a friend of McD’s at the time … who quickly dismissed the study as hogwash.

    @ all

    Any thoughts on my original question. Is McD’s and other big food operators at more risk here than in the US? Could consumers point the finger and take a stroll? Would a China based court be more likely to find that fast food causes fat, and that Big food should pay for that?


  6. Ron says:

    July 16th, 2008 at 2:42 am

    In regards to your original question, I don’t think that McDonalds or any big food operators have any reason to worry from a legal standpoint. In the big picture, I think this is not something that the central gov’t is worried about. With the average Chinese population outside of the big cities not even eating from these fast food places because there aren’t any in their “small” town they inhabit OR because of economics (remember Western fast food is still very expensive for most Chinese people), I do not forsee this being a problem in the near future.

  7. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    July 16th, 2008 at 2:43 am

    There is still a strongly ingrained perception that “American food is better” almost to the extent that having your young princeling eat a McDonald’s double cheeseburger with shake is almost guaranteed to make him more intelligent and get him into a place at Harvard later. There’s also the issue of prestige – McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, Haagen Daaz are premium brands in China, with meals costing far more than the local joint. Being seen in one is sending a Chinese message of face – “I’m successful. I can afford to take my kids to eat in American styled restaurants”.

    But familiarity will breed eventually contempt.