Fasting but Fat: Thailand’s Obese Monks

Image from www.dailymail.co.uk

“Obesity in our monks is a ticking time bomb,” Dr. Jongjit Angkatavanich, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. 

A study* has found that nearly half** of Thai Buddhist monks have been categorised as obese. 42% have high cholesterol levels, 23% suffer from high blood pressure, and over 10% are diabetic.
“Obesity in our monks is a ticking time bomb,” Dr. Jongjit Angkatavanich, a nutrition and diet expert at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

​Obesity-related health problems of the largely sedentary monk population cost Thai taxpayers more than 300 million baht in 2012, or approximately $8.5 million at the current exchange rate.

When researchers studied monks’ dietary habits, they were initially puzzled as they found the total calorie intake of monks (1,350) was about the same as that of Thai males in Bangkok (1,500) despite a daily fast from 12pm. It was discovered that the calories largely originate from modern sugary drinks
“When we really do research about this we are surprised … it is the drink,” said Dr. Angkatavanich.

​Although monks are forbidden from eating after midday, they are allowed to on sip sweetened drinks to keep up their energy.
“In Buddhism we call it panna [the] pali terminology for the drink that is allowed for monks to consume after midday,” Dr. Angkatavanich said.
“But right now in the present day … the kind of drink that is offered to monks has really changed … it is like soda, it is like sweetened beverage.”

 

​Monks tend to drink juices, instant tea and coffee offered by laypeople, Dr. Angkatavanich said, adding these were loaded with sugar and were high in energy. In addition, dishes such as gaeng kaew wan (green curry), tod mun (fried fish cakes), thong yip (Pinched Golden Egg Yolk), foi thong (Golden Egg Yolk Threads) and khao tom mud (Bananas in Sticky Rice) are popular auspicious items that are offered to monks, which are also high in sugar and calories. These offerings are having unintended consequences, as the monks are not allowed to reject food offered by faithful.
​Dr. Angkatavanich and her university are spearheading the campaign to instill a healthy lifestyle in the monkhood, which includes nutrition training and physical-activity programs.
Monks informed researchers they often did not sense their weight gain because of their loose-fitting robes and so the traditional monks’ belt was adapted with knots to show monks where their waistline should be.
*Despite being widely reported, Lion Brand has been unable to track down the original research paper. If you know it or its reference, please send a message to enquiry@lionbrand.com.au
**The number of monks included in the study is unspecified
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