It’s sounds like a “yo mamma” joke: Thailand’s monks are so fat they have to wear girdles. But it’s not a joke, it’s a real problem and costs Thai taxpayers millions a year in health expenses.
Thailand’s fat monks are a product of their own religion. Every day in the early morning, Buddhist devotees bring religious offerings to monks holding donation bowls, the Telegraph reported.
Feeding the monks secures good karma in this life and the next, PRI added, but the food and drinks devotees bring aren’t exactly fruit smoothies and kale salads.
Instead, they laden the monks with sugary juices and teas, coffee, dishes full of fat and sugar, snacks, and street foods. And apparently, religious guidelines prohibit the monks from rejecting the donations.
“Because of their great affinity towards religious observances, most devotees offer food with high cholesterol content and the Buddhist monks have no choice but to partake of these foods all year round,” said Maithripala Sirisena, the president of Sri Lanka, which also experienced an obesity epidemic among its clerics.
Their lifestyle only adds to the problem, since monastic life doesn’t require much time in the gym. For the most part, their lives are sedentary, which much time spent in prayer and meditation.
A new study has found that, as a result, half of Thailand’s 300,000 holy men are obese. A health and nutrition expert at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, AJongjit Angkatavanich released these sobering statistics: 48 percent of Thailand’s monks are obese, 42 and 23 percent have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, respectively, and 10 percent are diabetic.
“Obesity in our monks is a ticking time bomb.”
This obesity epidemic in Thailand seems to contradict the requirements of the monastic lifestyle. They’re supposed to live strict, plain lives, reject materialism and excess, and spend their time in meditation. But in Thailand, Buddhism isn’t without scandal. Several financial, sexual, and lifestyle controversies have befallen senior clerics and its former spiritual leader (they’re currently lacking one) has been accused of tax evasion.
Another problem for Thailand is that its fat monks are costing taxpayers a fortune. As a religious institution, the holy men’s medical expenses are paid for by the government, and when half those people have chronic health conditions, those bills get pricey pretty quickly.
According to Time, Thailand spent over $8.5 million on the fat monks’ medical expenses in 2012.
So academic, health, and religious officials have stepped in with a campaign to promote exercise and healthy eating. The monks and other officials are being taught how to cook healthy meals at one of Thailand’s two Buddhist universities, Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya.
The program is teaching them how to cook meals with protein, fiber, and calcium and have pushed the fat monks to exercise. Men having trouble with self-control are given girdles to wear that constrict their bellies uncomfortably if they eat too much or gain weight.
In eight weeks, a total of 82 obese monks lost an average 2.2 pounds and trimmed their waistlines by a half-inch. One monk even lost 22 pounds. The program will be implemented nationwide.
There is no indication of whether Buddhist devotees’ offerings of food and drink will be controlled to ensure that the fat monks don’t backslide in a sea of soda and candy bars. In Sri Lanka, which also saw an uptick in monks’ waistlines and associated health problems, the government addressed the problem back in 2012.
They drew up special menus that dictated what food devotees could drop into the monks’ donation bowls.
Thailand’s population of 67 million people are 90 percent Buddhist.
[Photo by Geet Theerawat/Shutterstock]