Young men exercising on treadmills at an Impulse Total Fitness club in Weifang, Shandong province. In China, slimmer employees are favored in many industries while overweight workers might be labeled as lazy and not trustworthy. In the past it was mainly women who were obsessed with losing weight and shaping their figures but recently more men have also got in on the act. [Photo/China Daily]
A growing desire by men for "six-pack" abdominal muscles is costing them time and money and expanding the market for the fitness and slimming industries in China.
Liang Zhongxin, a 27-year-old sales specialist at an electronic appliance supplier, paid 6,000 yuan ($952) for membership of a fitness club last month. He said it would be a most worthwhile investment if he successfully achieves his goal of weight loss.
For Liang, 6,000 yuan is no small sum - his monthly income is around 4,500 yuan.
Liang said he wants to lose 20 kilograms and regain confidence and a positive self image. He weighs around 98 kg and is about 175 centimeters tall.
Liang's boss warned him that being overweight may damage his career prospects.
The salesman said he had noticed that in many industries employees with good figures were favored while overweight workers might be labeled as lazy and not trustworthy, even though it was unfair.
"In the past only women were obsessed with losing weight and shaping their figures but recently men have also got in on the act," he said.
The slimming and fitness industries in China now look to men as they attach increasing importance to their weight and personal image.
"Time changes and ideas change. When I was 40, a man with a round belly was thought to be a successful businessman but now an overweight man, despite his age, is considered to be inferior," said Lu Qingtian, a 53-year-old senior manager with a garment factory.
China has more than 325 million people who are overweight or even suffering from obesity. The figure may double in the next two decades. With surging numbers of obese people, the total value of the fitness and slimming industries in China may reach 70 billion yuan, according to a report by China Youth Daily.
Sun Xiaoyang, a sales manager at a Shanghai-based gym chain, said in 2011 the company opened three branches in Shanghai. Each recruited some 300 members within just one week. The chain is planning to open five more in 2012, said Sun.
Sun said he noticed an increasing number of men were joining fitness clubs and spending hours on the equipment and doing aerobics.
"Some of them are trying to lose weight but most of them are already well-built. They want to become more muscular," said Sun.
Sun said, unlike overweight women, obese men are too shy to expose their figures in public.
"They tend to hire a private coach or they stop coming after two or three visits," said Sun.
The price of annual membership for gyms ranges from 800 yuan to 4,000 yuan depending on access to training courses and equipment.
"While women tend to buy the cheaper memberships and do only yoga and aerobics, men seem to be more inclined to spend money on equipment-assisted workout courses and even private coaching sessions - and they buy fitness products such as protein powders and L-carnitine more," said Sun.
Hua Yangyang, a 27-year-old communications specialist, said he spends at least eight hours in the gym every week.
"I lost some 10 kilograms in 16 months. It's something that's not worth boasting about compared with many other successful weight losers but I do feel better and more confident when I have less fat and more muscles," said Hua.
Hua said he spends about 300 yuan every month on fitness products including L-carnitine weight-loss pills, protein powder and meal-replacement diets, which help him to accelerate his metabolism, build up muscles and reduce his appetite.
Hua said gyms have become social networks and people talk about the brands of products they use, help one another on equipment drills and form competitive pairs to see who can achieve better results within a limited time.
Books, video programs and online coaching services for diets have also experienced an expanding market in China, with many specifically targeting men who want to lose weight.
"The best-selling ones are about how to build up muscles and how to keep fit via exercises. Most of the books target male readers who attach importance to quality of life," said Xu Juan, a shop assistant at a bookstore in the Huangpu district of Shanghai.
A 200-page imported book on diet aimed at men costs 187 yuan but buyers said it worth the money.
"If it helps me to lose 5 kg, then the cost-efficiency has exceeded that of those slimming creams my wife uses," said Zhu Jinzhe, a reader who bought five books on male slimming one afternoon in February.
David Kirchhoff, president and chief executive of Weight Watchers International Inc, a company that helps customers to track their food intake through a points-based system and which holds regular meetings, said the company is considering expanding in China, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
Despite the fact that online diet coaching services cost about 200 yuan a month, Zhong Fei, a 36-year-old financial services professional, bought the service without any hesitation when a friend recommended it.
"I am also thinking of keeping a dog to lose more calories when I walk it," said Zhong.
Some slimmers believe that losing weight has nothing to do with eating.
"I think all you need for weight-loss or slimming is a pair of good trainers so you can walk for an hour after dinner. I lost 15kg within nine months doing that," said Guo Shugang, a 65-year-old retired engineer from Shanghai's Zhabei district.
"Just keep walking and there will be no fuss over the side-effects of pills or losing the fun of eating," said Guo.
The benefits are no medical bills for obesity-related diseases and the wife's praise, said Guo.
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