11/24/2018, 08.44
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Too much salt and sugar in offerings leave Thai monks struggling with weight

48% of religious are obese and 42% suffer from hypertension. Food collection is a disciplinary practice. To earn the merit and honor of ancestors, faithful often provide them with generous portions, processed foods and cigarettes. Buddha's teaching does not permit refusal.


Bangkok (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Heavy curries, sugary sweets, drinks and savory snacks: the alms of the faithful is undermining  the health - and the weight - of Thai Buddhist monks. The increasingly widespread cases of diabetes, hypertension and knee conditions outline the extent of the health crisis that is affecting the country's Buddhist clergy. Last December, Thai health and religious officials published a "Charter on the healthcare of the monks". The document orders the religious to pay attention to their diet.

Every day, the Buddhist monk must seek alms. The collection of food and offerings is a disciplinary practice, both for monks and nuns. The religious set out every day at first light with their bowls and wander through villages and cities to collect the offerings of the day. Thais, who through generosity try to earn merit and honor for their ancestors, often provide them with abundant food.

"If they eat and are satisfied, we feel the comfort of that food will be transferred to our loved ones," says Prachaksvich Lebnak, Deputy Secretary-General of the National Health Security Office. "Some people - he continues - even give them cigarettes, as a symbolic offering to the ancestors who were avid smokers". According to the Asian Development Bank, Thais have some of the highest obesity rates in Asia. The members of the clergy are among the most affected: a research conducted in 2016 by the monks of the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok reveals that 48% of religious are obese and 42% suffer from hypertension.

Buddhist precepts forbid monks from eating after noon. But some juices, indicated as a pana in religious writings, are allowed after midday. This makes them perfect vehicles for an excessive supply of sugar. To exacerbate the problem there are also pre-packaged alms, which include processed foods and are readily available in Thai shops.

Although the new guidelines, which are not mandatory, require monks to take care of their health, refusing the offerings of devotees is a sensitive subject. "According to the Lord Buddha's teaching, we must accept whatever they offer. We can not escape, we can not refuse, "explains Phra Rajvoramuni, assistant abbot of the Sungvej temple in Bangkok.

The monk, who helped draft the Charter, hopes that health education, exercise and basic medical checks will bring about positive changes. "Even the monks should do something, like walking meditating, cleaning the temple in the morning, sweeping the floors," he suggests. Jongjit Angkatavanich, a researcher at Chulalongkorn University who conducted the 2016 study, is confident: "We will see a tangible change in three years".

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