03 September 2011
The population challenge and NCD's in China
Siri Tellier is external lecturer in the Master of International Health, Master of Disaster Management as well as the Summer Schools where she teaches health in emergencies as well as demography. Siri is also Visiting Professor, teaching university students in China about international perspectives on demographic challenges and was recently awarded the Population award for International Assistance in Beijing, China for her long-standing efforts at improving reproductive health and demographic studies in China.
We asked Siri to explain to us, whether NCDs are a particular problem in China, and if so, what are the reasons?
Yes, absolutely they pose a particular problem!
1. The first reason is demographic: in any population, the prevalence of NCDs tends to increase with age. In China, the drop in birth rates, and the increase in life expectancy, has happened faster than in almost any other country, and therefore ageing is also happening faster than in almost any other country. Today, the percentage of the population aged 60+ is around 12%, but that will double by 2030. Therefore, adjustments have to be made very quickly.
2. A second demographic reasons is that urbanization is happening very quickly, and often it is young adults who move to the cities, leaving older people behind. In China, like in most other developing countries, parents depend for old age care - both health, social and financial - on their children. In China, the number of children is low in any case, and now they are also moving far away. So that is another particular challenge.
3. A third challenge is that the population is exposed to particular risk factors. As mentioned urbanization is happening quickly, and that entails a combination of life style issues. China has a high rate of smoking, especially among males (one third of the world's smokers are in China). That problem is not new, but what is new is the sedentary nature and shift to a richer diet which occur with greater wealth and urbanization. There is also the particular issue that there was mass starvation around 1960 (during the Great Leap Forward). and this may have caused a high prevalence of low birth weight and therefore be a risk for future issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.