Global Health Issues 2019: China

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Fraser Clarke

Health issues are always evolving, with each country and continent having its own unique set of challenges. In the latest in our exclusive new series, Global Health Issues, we’ll take a look at each country we work with, and examine what conditions are most prevalent there.

In this week’s article we’re taking a look at China, a country considered by many to be a future superpower - and one that is home to some of the most modern and advanced healthcare facilities in the world.

1 - Hypertension

Hypertension has been labelled China’s secret killer, with between 35% and 70% of the adult population believed to suffer from the condition. 

Despite this less than a third of this group are receiving treatment, with many potentially unaware that they even have high blood pressure. 

A range of contributing factors have been given for this recent rise in hypertension cases (which are now related to 20% of deaths in the country) with these ranging from the simple impact of an ageing population, to rapid urbanisation, poorer than ever diets and sky-high obesity rates.

Until those root causes are dealt with, it looks as if China’s battle with hypertension will continue taking lives in the country.

2 - Respiratory Conditions

Given the notorious issues with air quality in China’s major cities it will come as little surprise that respiratory conditions are a major issue, with those environmental factors combining with a high smoking rate to create a toxic combination.

Estimates suggest that polluted air causes in excess of 350,000 deaths every year, with China being home to some of the highest COPD, lower respiratory infection and Lung Cancer rates in the world.

This makes it especially challenging for medics, who may see many patients with a range of already developed respiratory conditions - even at a relatively young age.

3 - Strokes

Again linked to hypertension, smoking rates and unhealthy diets, strokes are becoming a major health issue in China.

Strokes are the second most common cause of death in the country, although recent research published by the BMJ does hint that these rates may have started to drop slightly. 

Unhealthy diets in China peaked around 20 years ago, with the introduction of fast food, and the rejection of more traditional eating habits, however greater education looks to have had a positive impact on this trend, and so hopes are rising that it may not become as big an issue as once feared.

4 - Diabetes

Few people think of China when they are researching diabetes. The Gulf, the USA and even parts of Europe are thought to have far higher rates, whilst historically it hasn’t been an issue that has affected China.

That has all changed over the past 20 years however, with the country now home to the most diabetics in the world - a statistic that represents an incredible rise since the 1980s when just 1% of the population had the condition.

13% of the country’s total health expenditure now goes towards the treatment of diabetics, and this rate only looks as if it will rise in the future as the health of the nation continues to decline.

5 - Childhood Obesity

One in five Chinese children are now obese despite the country’s adult obesity rate being among the world’s lowest.

According to a recently released study, a vast range of factors linked with China’s development have been given for this dramatic rise - with one of the more unique reasons actually placing the blame on the children’s grandparents!

Many grandparent age Chinese still see being overweight as a positive, with this group having lived during periods of extreme poverty where little food was available. As a result studies have shown that they now overfeed their grandchildren.

That is far from the only reason for the shocking increase however, with rapid development, growing personal wealth levels, the rise of junk food establishments and increasingly sedentary lifestyles all playing a major role in creating a environment where obesity can thrive.

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