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October 20th, 2008:

Obesity, Smoking All Time Bombs

Reuters in Hong Kong | Oct 20, 2008

Chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart and respiratory diseases are ticking time bombs in the mainland, and Chinese must cut their intake of fatty foods and salt, stop smoking and start exercising, health experts said.

Increasingly affluent mainlanders in urban and rural areas consumed between 25 and 100 per cent more fat each day in 2002 compared with 1982, sharply raising the risk of heart disease and cancer, the experts wrote in The Lancet medical journal.

The report, by researchers in China and the United States, is part of a special series on the country’s health reforms.

While the country was plagued by infectious diseases before 1990, chronic illnesses are now its main health problem and they accounted for 74.1 per cent of all deaths in 2005, up from 47.1 per cent in 1973, the researchers wrote.

While these chronic illnesses have to do with people living longer, several high-risk factors are also involved.

Apart from a fatty diet, many mainlanders consume a relatively high 12-gram dosage of salt daily, which the paper said accounted for hypertension in some 177 million adults.

Based on mainland definitions, 22.8 per cent of Chinese were overweight in 2002, up 39 per cent from 1992. Some 7.1 per cent in the population were obese in 2002.

The paper also drew attention to the country’s smoking habit.

“One in every three smokers in the world is a Chinese man… consumption of cigarettes increased to 2,022 billion in 2006, 17.4 per cent higher than in 2002,” they wrote.

The average mainland male smoker smoked 15 cigarettes a day in 2002, up from 13 in 1984.

The costs of the mainland’s disease burden from smoking were likely to be vast, and China will suffer reduced productivity and more premature deaths, the researchers warned.

Hypertension and tobacco can be targeted health priorities. Reduction of salt intake should become a national campaign,” wrote the team, led by Yang Gonghuan of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing.

In another paper, also in the Lancet series, a team led by Yuanli Liu of the Harvard School of Public Health said only 12 per cent of hypertension patients in urban areas and seven per cent in the countryside were covered by treatment.

While 45 and 50 per cent of men in urban and rural areas were regular smokers in 2003, only 5-6 per cent of them tried to quit.

In an accompanying comment, Xiao Shuiyuan of China’s Central South University and Matthew Korman of Stanford University in the United States warned of dire consequences.

“If present smoking trends continue, 100 million Chinese men will die (of smoking-related causes) between 2000 and 2050, with many of their family members squandering life savings in desperate attempts at treatment,” the two scientists wrote.