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WHO: 80% of China Deaths from Non-Communicable Diseases – China Real Time Report – WSJ

  • December 7, 2012, 8:27 PM HKT

WHO: 80% of China Deaths from Non-Communicable Diseases

World Health Organization officials are urging China to reduce the country’s high rates of non-communicable diseases, warning that medical costs and productivity losses stemming from those diseases will amount to significant economic losses for the world’s second-largest economy.

Heart disease, strokes, diabetes and chronic lung disease are mounting in China, accounting for 80% of deaths and more than 70% of the country’s health expenditures, said Michael O’Leary, the WHO representative to China, in a press briefing Friday. By 2015, a decade of costs tied to health care and losses of productivity from diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are expected to reach as high as $550 billion, Mr. O’Leary said.

Associated Press

WHO officials urged China to fund programs teaching Chinese to reduce bad habits, such as high salt consumption and smoking, that contribute to chronic diseases. “China has had huge success in raising families from poverty and we hope not to see a backslide,” said Mr. O’Leary,

The world’s most populous country is facing a health crisis as of late, tied in part to a massive ongoing migration. Every year, millions of Chinese citizens move from rural regions to cities, where they tend to induge more in salty and fatty foods, cigarettes, alcohol and sedentary habits that lend to illness.
Chronic disease death rates in China are higher than world averages. By comparison, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the death rate is 70 per 100 in the U.S., while the World Health Organization says they represent 63% of deaths world-wide

Tobacco cessation is one of the most tangible ways in which China could reduce the disease burden, Mr. O’Leary said, urging leaders to cut smoking rates to nearly 20% by 2025. Currently 28% of people older than 15 — 301 million people — are smokers in China and smoking related sickness kills more than one million Chinese citizens each year, he said.

While the government has talked about the need to reduce smoking in recent years, leaders actually benefit from Chinese cigarette consumption due to their ties to country’s tobacco companies, said James Middleton, chair of Hong-Kong based air quality organization Clear The Air.

China is not only the world’s largest tobacco consumer, but also the largest producer. Its main tobacco companies are state-owned and feed revenue into state coffers, which conflict with the country’s efforts to address smoking’s harmful effects, Mr. Middleton said.

Activists have also noted that the price of cigarettes in China remains low and bans on public smoking are not enforced.

But smoking isn’t the only threat. Citizens could also benefit from nutrition education, helping them to understand the amount of salt they are consuming, which is nearly triple the allowed limit of 5 grams per day, Mr. O’Leary said. Chinese are adding soy sauce to their food in addition to table salt, contributing to high blood pressure and heart disease, he said.

The WHO recommends that China boost funding for educational programs and tobacco controls, adding 1.3 yuan per person to existing health care funding to save an estimated 4.6 million lives over a decade.

– Laurie Burkitt. Follow her on Twitter @lburkitt

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