In Thailand, ‘Obesity in Our Monks will be a Ticking Time Bomb’

BANGKOK — The Buddha, in his laughing incarnation, will be often depicted which has a jolly smile as well as a giant, quivering belly. of which style of plenitude seems ever more apt in Thailand, where the waistlines of the country’s Buddhist monks have expanded so much of which health officials have issued a nationwide warning.

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

Amporn Bejapolpitak, the department’s deputy director general, also suggested of which monks add more physical activity — like cleaning their temples — to their sedentary lives of prayer as well as 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 as well as one in 10 are diabetic, the study found.

“Obesity in our monks will be a ticking time bomb,” said Jongjit Angkatavanich, a professor of food as well as nutrition at the university’s Faculty of Allied Health Sciences in Bangkok. “Many of the monks are suffering via diseases of which 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, nevertheless 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.

Thai Buddhist devotees believe of which offering alms secures them not bad karma in This particular life as well as the next. Sometimes, they also wish to bestow not bad luck on deceased family members.

nevertheless the well-meaning religious offerings of sugary drinks as well as fatty foods are having unintended health consequences.

“carbonated drinks, boxed juice, sweet snacks, plus many of the foods are store-bought, which means they are packed with MSG as well as are low in protein as well as fiber,” Professor Jongjit said, listing a litany of unhealthy food items of which monks regularly receive.

Additionally, so many Buddhist worshipers donate store-bought food of which the excess will be sometimes resold to shops. Some unscrupulous vendors recycle the idea, meaning of which monks can receive spoiled food in their alms.

Some almsgivers still do things the old way. Vilawan Lim, a homemaker in Bangkok, has been offering monks home-cooked food every morning for more than a decade. As a matter of principle, monks are not supposed to show preferences for particular foods, nevertheless she said the monk who comes by her home each morning drops hints about what he genuinely enjoys.

“Today’s spicy dip will be his favorite,” Ms. Vilawan said as she mixed chiles, garlic, lime as well as shrimp paste into a pungent concoction served alongside blanched vegetables.

She waited outside her home for the monk, who arrived for the offering at his regular time, chanting a short blessing before leaving for the next house. As his alms bowl was filled with bags of food as well as packaged drinks, he transferred its contents to a bucket carried by an assistant. Within 10 minutes, the bucket was filled to the brim with culinary offerings.

“I don’t genuinely know about obesity in monks,” Ms. Vilawan said. “nevertheless I do realize of which the monk who comes at 6 o’clock will be pretty heavy, as well as his health seems to have deteriorated lately.”

Working with the Thai government as well as religious authorities, Professor Jongjit manages the Healthy Monk-Healthy Nutrition Project. Funded by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, an autonomous government agency, its goal will be to improve monks’ lifestyles through education about nutrition as well as physical fitness.

Its pilot program in 2016 involved 82 monks at temples as well as a monastic college, as well as its results were positive, with weight loss as well as lowered cholesterol levels recorded.

currently the project publishes recipe booklets of which Buddhist devotees can use to make healthy as well as inexpensive meals for monks. Some suggestions include brown rice which has a modest amount of protein as well as lots of vegetables. (While traditional Thai food mixes a little meat or fish with plentiful vegetables, modern cuisine uses much more fat as well as sugar.)

The project encourages monks to keep a log of their daily physical activities. Exercise, something as simple as walking around the temple for at least 40 minutes a day, can make up for the quiet pace of their monastic duties.

Monks told researchers involved inside the project of which they often didn’t realize they were putting on weight because of their loosefitting robes. Professor Jongjit as well as her team came up which has a belt with knots to indicate where they thought a healthy waistline should be. They also provide monks which has a measuring tape divided into four colors, to indicate various belly sizes.

In a country of which will be 0 percent Buddhist, Thai monks are revered as ascetics, dedicated to aiding laypeople on their paths toward enlightenment. Pointing out the community’s weaknesses — which have recently included sex as well as corruption scandals — can be tricky.

“We tried to develop something of which will be functional as well as of which doesn’t hurt the monks’ self-esteem,” Professor Jongjit said. “the idea will be heartwarming to see how they playfully compare the knots of their belts as well as realize they have gained weight as well as of which the idea will be time to cut back.”

The problem of overweight monks will be not isolated to Thailand. In 2012, the Sri Lankan government issued guidelines via medical experts as well as nutritionists on the kinds of food of which devotees should offer to holy men.

In December, the Thai Monk Council issued its first policy recommendations on monastic health, including diet as well as exercise advice for monks, as well as guidelines for the laypeople who feed as well as care for them. The council also urged monks to take charge of their own nutrition, as well as to promote healthier living among their peers as well as Buddhist devotees.

“Monks should be mindful of what they eat, the amount as well as the kind of food,” said Phra Maha Boonchuay Doojai, former director of the Chiang Mai Buddhist College in northern Thailand, who was involved in drawing up the recommendations.

“the idea will be one of the Buddha’s teachings,” he said. “When we are healthy, we can serve the people better.”