Obesity: A growing problem in Asia

By Pingting Liu

Malaysian pianist Yu Jing plans to be back on stage within six months after successful obesity surgery last month at the Overseas Chinese Hospital.

The 30-year-old had a nearly hour-long procedure, which shrank the size of his stomach and will eventually allow food to bypass part of his small intestine.

Yu Jing undergoes surgery for obesity in Guangzhou, China.

Surgeon Wang Cunchuan restructured Yu’s digestive system, using staples to divide the patient’s stomach into a small, upper section and a larger, bottom section. Later, he connected the top section, known as the pouch, to the small intestine and made four small surgical cuts in the patient’s belly.

Just 45 minutes after the surgery, Yu flashed a peace sign from the bed. Five hours later, he could walk slowly with a nurse’s assistance. And within a month, he had lost 2.5 kilograms.

Yu flashes the peace sign after the surgery is done.

Dr. Wang, the deputy director of the hospital, said obesity has only two solutions: having a surgery or stitching someone’s mouth shut.

A study by the International Federation for the Surgery of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders said China had over 70 million obese people and 200 million overweight in 2015. The study used a stricter definition of the body mass index than the World Health Organization.

Under the study’s standards, a two-meter-tall man is considered obese when he weighs 112 kilograms, while the WHO uses a weight of 120 kilograms.


Dr. Chen Meixiao, the deputy director’s assistant, said obese patients need to exercise more and eat less. Pills, acupuncture, and workouts may be helpful for a short while. In the end, surgery is the most efficient way of losing weight.

Yu, who weighs 170 kilograms, is one of the 90 patients waiting for the same surgery in the hospital.

Yu’s body started to become visible when he was 90 kilograms in sixth grade.

“When the rest were still tiny monkeys, I was already a giant,” Yu said. “People often called me ‘fatty’ or ‘fat ass.’”

In Yu’s case, stress was the primary cause. Since elementary school, he experienced depression due to different labels, academic pressure, and media exposure.

Yu was born in a well-known business family in Malaysia and is now a pianist who has performed in charity gala balls and concerts. While he was studying accounting and finance in London, his ex-girlfriend was in the United States. After the long-distance relationship ended in 2009, his weight skyrocketed from 120 to 140 kilograms. Upon graduation in the same year, he enrolled in a slimming program for half a year in Tianjin.

“It was a huge success,” he said. Before the program, he tried different methods such as slimming tea, injections, cupping therapies, and belts. A slimming belt acts as a sauna sweating off the weight around the waist, while a Chinese cupping stimulates digestion and metabolism, releases stress, and controls weight gain.

Yu worked out at the dietary gym five hours every day and lost around 50 kilograms. After the program, he began to work as a secretary in his mother’s trading company in Malaysia in 2010.

The initial success eventually failed after two years as he gave up on his daily routine.

After the rebound weight gain, he flew back to London in 2013 to take his second degree in law. When Yu finished his first year in 2014, his friend, who is a doctor in Shanghai, recommended the Overseas Hospital to him. “After loads of convincing work, I decided to give it a shot.”

Dr. Zheng Feng, the anesthetist for the recent operation, said if Yu’s obesity issue was not rectified immediately, it would eventually evolve into medical complications such as diabetes and hypertension. An average sugar level for non-diabetics is between 3.9-5.5 millimoles; Yu’s is 6.2.

Yu said obesity has affected his professional image and confidence. “I cannot go to the court like this and think fast and sharp enough when I face my opponents.” In London, he got a part-time job in a law firm and was always embarrassed by the way how his colleagues and clients looked at him.

Obesity has also adversely influenced his daily life. He can hardly bend down to use the lavatory.

Cost is another problem. He never buys clothes but gets them tailored. A set of formal attire usually costs  at least ¥5,000.

Yu also spends a lot on food. When he is stressed, he plays piano or eats “sweets, especially chocolates, that can help me get rid of anxiety instantaneously.”

Yu has a binge eating disorder. He gets hungry quickly; as a result, he eats twice as fast as an average person. He loves big buffets with food like Eastern and Western cuisines and often finishes 20 platefuls of food. Moreover, he eats six times a day, including breakfast, morning snacks, lunch, afternoon tea or a beer party, dinner, and a late supper.

After the surgery, Yu is not allowed to eat so often and so much. Nevertheless, he remains optimistic. “This only means I have to stop buffets and chocolates temporarily. I will probably eat them again after three months or half a year from now.”

If he wants one or two pieces of chocolate, he said his doctors said that’s all right occasionally. However, during the first month after the surgery, he can only take fluids.

Whatever the case, body reconstruction should drastically decrease his appetite.
The course of treatment will last his whole life. Aside from sticking to the proper diet, he is required to take supplements like vitamins and calcium. He must exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, and control portion sizes of what he eats.

“At least I still have my piano,” said Yu. He performs at the Sunshine Hall of the Fourth In-Patient Building every afternoon, attracting many other patients and the medical staff who drop by to listen.

Yu was discharged from the hospital after a two-week recovery on June 9. He spent approximately ¥100,000 on the operation, mostly covered by his medical insurance in Malaysia.

Awaiting four post-operative checkups done every three months, he is living at the Marseille International Apartments opposite the hospital.

After the second follow-up exam, Yu will return to Malaysia for a piano performance and a renewal of visas for international travel. Afterward, he will head back to England to finish his final year in law. He will graduate in July 2018.

After the surgery, Yu said he has three things on his bucket list: to lose weight, to finish law school, and to get married.

4 thoughts on “Obesity: A growing problem in Asia”

  1. My friend who has 150 kgs before and was asked to have a surgery like this but he refused the suggestion finally and began his year long excises and right diet, now he has already lose 60 kgs and still keeps on jogging for his health and a better figure.


    1. Uncle Norton!! Thank you for the comment. Your story is inspiring! I think I know your friend. I am very proud of him. Stay sexy and healthy.


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