Chinese feel pressure of more wealth and less health

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The Independent Online
CHINA'S standard of living is catching up with the West, and so is the nation's blood-pressure.

A study by Peking's Fuwai Hospital shows the number of people with high blood-pressure is up by a quarter compared with 10 years ago; one person in nine is affected. In 1959, only 7 per cent of Peking's population had high blood-pressure. By 1991 it was almost 25 per cent. Changes in diet are most to blame, says the study, which followed 940,000 people for four years.

Newly-affluent city dwellers are replacing the traditional modest, rice-based meal with Western-style fast- food and lavish Chinese banquets. Expensive cigarettes and alcohol have become everyday status symbols. The result is an alarming increase in the incidence of high blood-pressure, heart disease and obesity, with children emerging as a new generation of fatties.

Other parts of East Asia - such as Hong Kong and Japan - give a warning of what China faces. In Hong Kong, fat consumption has more than doubled in two generations, children have the world's second highest cholesterol level and deaths from heart disease among the under-30s have risen six-fold in less than 25 years.

China's strict policy of one child per urban couple has exacerbated the problem, as a generation of 'Little Emperors' emerge, spoilt by doting parents. Obese children waddling along the streets of Peking are a common sight, and there is even a private holiday camp near the capital for overweight youngsters trying to slim.

Heart disease remains the country's biggest killer, and a million people die from strokes every year, according to the study. Although the levels of heart disease and strokes are low compared to many developed countries, Chinese doctors warn that the number of deaths from these diseases will soar unless people are encouraged to adopt a more balanced diet, smoke and drink less, and take more exercise.

Smoking is China's other big health problem. China is the world's biggest manufacturer and seller of tobacco: in 1993, a total of 1.6 billion cigarettes were sold in China to its 300 million smokers. Officials estimate that 60 per cent of men over 15 years old, and 9 per cent of women, are smokers - and the numbers are rising. The Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine says that if smoking is not reduced by the year 2030, there will be more than 3 million smoking-related deaths a year.