Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

China: Can It Solve America's Obesity Problem?


I know. Why am I talking about this? You thought this was a sports business blog. Well, this week I've been trying to give you something a little bit different as I'm filing from Beijing.

(Programming reminder: Next week, we're taking you behind the business of the 2008 Olympic games. You can watch my stories on CNBC or see them here on the Web site.)

Anyway, back to my thought. As is the case with most foreign countries, it's hard to find a fat person here in China. There are many reasons for this.

1. People are riding their bikes everywhere.

2. The portion sizes are smaller. A McDonald's large fry is roughly the equivalent of an American medium. A Starbucks Venti is like a Starbucks Tall in the United States.

3. You're eating slower when you have two pieces of thin wood to grab your food instead of a big, fat fork. (Quick insight: I've learned that the real Chinese people don't go to the rice until the end of the meal if they need filler. That's unlike us who line the bottom of our plates at Chinese restaurants with the stuff.)

4. You can't find clothes if you're remotely fat.

I want to explore the last point because I already have personal experience. I'm actually not overweight--5-foot-10, 175--but I had trouble finding a T-shirt today.

I was at the opening of Nike Beijing, which you will see featured next Thursday and I wanted to get one of their cool T-shirts. So I started looking for my size. I first picked up a men's medium, which couldn't even fit an American squirrel. I then moved on to the L. Still not even close and I wasn't even considering how the thing would shrink in my washing machine. So I told the salesman that I'm thinking I'd need at least an XL. The XL barely fit, so we went to XXL, a size I've never worn in any capacity in my entire life. And there it was. It was apparently so big that I couldn't even get it in white or black. They only had a couple XXL's in the entire store and the shirts were only orange.

I felt really insecure with my XXL. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to be the next guy on the Slimfast commercial. But I do think it could go a long way if America re-named its sizes.

Here's the new system I propose. A recommended serving size would be called "Normal." A step up would be called "Overweight." And the third size would be labeled "Don't Eat/Drink This Much" size. Clothing labeling will follow the same system. The way I see it if you give Americans a dose of reality every time they eat, drink or try new clothes on, maybe three quarters of us won't be overweight in the next decade.

Before I leave Beijing, I should say that I've never stayed in a hotel quite like the China World here. The best part? A live orchestra or string quartet constantly playing in the lobby. Fresh desserts you'd find at a five star restaurant every night and, get this, my own monogrammed pajamas with "DR" on it. I assume that since it has my initials on it, I was allowed to take them. If they weren't for free, I will deny I ever saw them.

Questions?  Comments?