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Thailand’s monks battle weight problems

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BANGKOK Every morning, Buddhist monk Pipit Sarakitwinon walks around his temple and does hundreds of arm exercises, part of a new regimen aimed at shedding weight as a health overhaul for members of the clergy in Thailand.

Followers have been showering monks - respected in the kingdom - with food loaded with sugar, fat and oil, contributing to a health crisis.

"Before I dieted, I could barely walk 100m without getting tired," Mr Pipit, 63, said during a check-up at a hospital for monks in Bangkok, adding that he used to weigh 180kg.

Thai health and religious officials last December published a Monk Health Charter, instructing members of the clergy to watch what they eat.

Thais seeking to honour their ancestors often provide food to monks but they can be generous to a fault.

Thais boast some of the highest rates of obesity in Asia, according to the Asian Development Bank. Monks are among the worst hit - a 2016 survey by Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok found obesity rates as high as 48 per cent, with 42 per cent suffering from high blood pressure.

Refusing devotees' offerings is a delicate subject.

"According to Lord Buddha's teaching, whatever they offer, we have to accept. We can't deny, we can't reject," said Phra Rajvoramuni, the assistant abbot at Sungvej temple in Bangkok who helped author the new charter.

"The monks also should do something, like exercise... like walking meditation, cleaning the temple in the morning, sweeping the grounds," he said. - AFP