Rich, Fat and Sitting Down

Jun 30, 2011

Childhood obesity is a growing problem among the urban rich in Indonesia

The affordability of cooking oil has also changed the way the food is prepared. Traditionally it was boiled, steamed or grilled, but today deep-frying is considered more palatable. Cooking oil is now considered essential to a decent menu. If for some reason its price goes up mothers everywhere are concerned.

…children in car-owning families were four times more likely to eat out in a fast-food restaurant

As in many developed countries, fast food also causes obesity in Indonesian children. Eating out and delivery services are an easy solution for busy mothers. But in Indonesia dining out in an international fast-food restaurant will cost at least twice what it costs in a traditional restaurant. Our study showed that children in car-owning families were four times more likely to eat out in a fast-food restaurant. We do not know to what extent fast food now replaces home cooking.



A sedentary lifestyle is another problem for children from wealthier families. Living in a busy city, they usually have busy parents who have little time for sport and who lead sedentary lives themselves. Since the family has a car, and most probably more than one, they are driven to school instead of walking or biking. This is because most of the time they go to the best possible school, known as a “favourite” or elite school, some distance away. Favourite schools exist in all big cities. Parents are prepared to pay much more to send their children to one. Such schools teach more foreign languages, mathematics and other advanced subjects, and give more homework, thus keeping the children longer at school. Busy parents like this too, because they do not have to worry about what their children are doing after school.

Indonesian school curricula put little emphasis on sport. Around two to four hours a week are compulsory. Children who like sport can double that with extracurricular activities. But overweight or obese children try to avoid these activities. Joining a sport club outside school is not popular.

After school, rich children will mostly stay at home, doing their homework, watching television or playing computer games. Gone are the times when they played football or flew kites with the neighbourhood kids. Safety-conscious parents now want to know where their children are and who they are with. Some parents, even educated ones, worry that children who play outside will become too tired to study.

Overweight and obese children like Yanto and Dewi are a problem for the rich, while the poor still battle malnutrition. Rich parents can afford to provide their children with the best facilities. Ironically, Yanto’s computer games and Dewi’s driver have made them unhealthy. When they grow, up their health problems will only increase.


Julia Madarina is a pediatric endocrinologist at the Department of Child Health, Faculty of Medicine, Gadjah Mada University and at Sardjito General Hospital, Yogyakarta. She completed her PhD at the Free University Amsterdam. She is researching childhood and adolescent obesity and metabolic syndrome.


This article was first published in Inside Indonesia.