Bangkok (AFP) – Every day, thousands of Buddhist monks tour offerings across Thailand. The sugary drinks and industrial cakes they harvest often make them obese, a phenomenon that has become a real social problem in the kingdom.
"Before coming here and going on a diet, I could hardly walk 100 meters without feeling tired," says Pipit Sarakitwinon, who came to check in at a hospital specialized in the treatment of monks. . These are more than 300,000 in this predominantly Buddhist country of nearly 70 million people.
He is delighted to have grown from 180 to 150 pounds since he started dieting earlier this year.
The tradition of making offerings in kind to monks is very much rooted in Thailand, but also in Burma or neighboring Cambodia, where the statues of Buddha show chubby.
But the classic rice bean has turned into baskets of "junk-food", from chips to energy drinks, in this country where the scandals of monks living big or diverting money for personal purposes have not discouraged the faithful to give them gifts, considered as "good deeds" bringing luck.
We continue to see, even in big cities like Bangkok, monks go barefoot at dawn through the streets.
But many of them receive the gifts without moving from their temple. And in the supermarkets, whole rays are dedicated to these ready-made offerings, stacked in a yellow bucket.
"If they eat our food and are satisfied with it, we believe that the food will be passed on to our beloved dead," says Prachaksvich Lebnak, a senior official with the Ministry of Health. "Some even offer them cigarettes," he says.
– The enemy: sweet drinks –
This taste for offerings too fat, too sweet or too salty, gives rates of diabetes and hypertension among the Buddhist clergy who frenzy health authorities, in a country where more generally obesity is progressing.
According to a study conducted this year in northeastern Thailand, one of the states most affected by obesity in Asia, out of more than 3,500 monks examined, 15% were obese. Academic Jongjit Angkatavanich even says, studies in support, that the rates of obesity go up to 48% among the monks interviewed.
The enemy to kill: sweet drinks that monks drink in large quantities, not being allowed to eat solid food after noon.
Health authorities are trying to sensitize them to the basics of dietetics.
In a Bangkok hospital dedicated to them, a large sign at the entrance explains that "water is the best drink". "You should consume less than six spoons of sugar a day," reads on this panel that lists the most common sweet drinks, such as green tea, soda or energy drinks, with the number of spoons of sugar per bottle.
– Monks Health Charter –
In December 2017, the ruling military junta in Thailand issued a Monk Health Charter, enjoining them to take care of their bodies.
Initiatives to dietetics are organized, including through the monasteries of the province, to try to change their eating habits.
The problem is that they are supposed to accept all offerings because "according to Buddha's teaching, all that is offered must be accepted," says Phra Rajvoramuni, a monk who participated in the drafting of the charter.
Moreover, in Thailand, monks are supposed not to play sports.
In this case, "they should exercise, like meditative walking, clean the temple in the morning, sweep the floor" in a dynamic way, suggests Phra Rajvoramuni, the monk who co-wrote the charter.
Pipit followed the advice. He walks more and tries to eat less. "Now," he says, "I pay more attention to the food offered by the villagers."