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Nearly 30% of Korean students overweight, more binge drinking than before

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : March 30, 2024 - 16:01

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The percentage of South Korean students who are overweight or obese inched down in 2023 compared to the year before, but a growing percentage of students were categorized as heavy drinkers, a government report showed Thursday.

Some 29.6 percent of elementary, middle and high school students across the country fell into the overweight or obese categories, according to the joint report by the Ministry of Education and the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. This figure marked a slight decrease of 0.9 percentage points from the year before, and of 1.2 percentage points compared to 2021.

South Korea defines those with a body-mass index between 23 and 24.9 as overweight, and 25 or above as obese. These definitions are different from the World Health Organization's standard, in which a BMI of between 25 and 29.9 is defined as overweight as overweight and a BMI of 30 or higher is defined as as obese. Officials conducted the study based on a survey of 87,182 students at 1,009 schools across the country.

The survey showed that students living in rural areas -- administrative areas categorized as "eup" or "myeon" -- had a higher rate of being overweight or obese at 34.4 percent compared to 28.7 percent for those living in urban areas.

The report showed that the average weight of students in their final year of high school has inched up, the weight of boys went up 0.9 kilograms to 72.7 while that of girls increased 0.7 kilograms to 58.2. Male students in final year of middle school weighed more than the prior year but girls weighed less, with boys marking 64.6 kilograms and girls 55.1 kilograms.

However, the weights of both sixth grade boys and girls decreased, with that of boys falling by 1 kilogram to mark 50.6 and that of girls by 0.2 kilograms to record 47.

The government also surveyed the smoking and drinking rates of the students in middle and high schools; the smoking rate refers to the percentage of those who has smoked at least once in the past 30 days, and the drinking rate refers to students who had at least one drink in the same period. The combined smoking rate was 4.2 percent, down 0.3 percent from the year before.

Per gender, it was 5.6 percent for males, down 0.6 percentage points compared to 2022, and 2.7 percent for females, the same as in 2022.

The drinking rate for both boys and girls went down from the year before, from 15 percent to 13 percent for boys and from 10.9 percent to 9 percent for girls.

But while the report showed that fewer students overall are drinking alcohol, those who do are drinking a lot. Of those categorized as drinkers, the percentage of those who did "dangerous drinking," which the study defines as boys having five shots or more of soju and girls having three shots or more of soju at least once in the past 30 days, was 41.3 percent for boys and 50.1 percent for girls.