December 20, 2023
SEOUL – The number of South Koreans smoking or drinking has risen in the era following the years since the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, a state-issued report showed Tuesday.
The annual report, conducted on 230,000 adults across the country by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), indicated deteriorating health indexes across the board, as obesity and depression were also on the rise in recent years.
South Korea’s smoking rate had been on a downward trend since reaching 26.7 percent in 2009, dipping to 19.1 percent in 2021. However, it rose again for two years in 2022 and 2023, to 19.3 percent and 20.3 percent, respectively.
The smoking rate for men in 2023 was 36.1 percent, up 0.8 percent compared to year before, while the smoking rate for women increased 0.6 percent to mark 4 percent.
South Koreans were also drinking more than before, compared to 2020 and 2021 when their propensity to drink dropped drastically compared to the pre-pandemic period. The drinking rate — the percentage of the population that drank alcohol at least once a month for the past year — had dropped from 59.9 percent in 2019 to 54.7 percent in 2020 and 53.7 percent in 2021, but surged to 57.7 percent in 2022 when the government removed most of the social distancing measures implemented during the pandemic.
The drinking rate rose once again to 58 percent this year.
The agency defines heavy drinkers as men who have at least seven shots of soju or five cans of beer at least twice a day, and women who drink seven or more soju shots or three or more cans of beer for the same frequency. The percentage of those drinkers went from 12.6 percent to 13.2 percent from 2022 to 2023.
From 2022 to 2023, the self-diagnosed obesity rate went from 32.5 percent to 33.7 percent in the same period. But the official KDCA figure announced earlier this month was much higher. The male obesity rate was 47.7 percent, while the rate for females was 25.7 percent.
Those who perceived themselves to be under stress went from 23.9 percent to 25.7 percent. About 6.8 percent of the respondents said they have been depressed, compared to 7.3 percent in 2023.
While most indications showing that South Koreans were less healthy than before, they were walking more compared to during the pandemic. The percentage of people who walked for at least 30 minutes a day for five days in the past week dipped to all-time low in 2020 at 37.4 percent, but rebounded to 47.9 percent in 2023.