Lifestyle changes touted by WHO boss

BEIJING – Victory in China’s battle against the rising threat of chronic diseases is in the hands of ordinary people, Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), told China Daily.

In an exclusive interview, she said healthy lifestyles not only help citizens but play a key role in reducing the huge burden placed on medical resources by non-communicable illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension.

Currently, 85 percent of deaths in China are related to chronic diseases, which represent a huge economic burden in the form of medical bills, according to statistics from China’s Ministry of Health.

“Actually, these conditions are highly preventable and, if people can take simple steps like not smoking, limiting themselves to modest consumption of alcohol, having an active lifestyle and eating a balanced diet, they can stay healthy,” she said on Tuesday.

By doing that, “it’s good for an individual’s health and for their wallets and it is also good for the government because chronic diseases are expensive”, she said.

Chronic illnesses, including hypertension, usually need lifelong medication, which are costly to the patients’ family as well as to the nation.

China’s Vice-Minister of Health Huang Jiefu said about 80 percent of China’s total health expenditure is spent on the treatment and care of people with chronic diseases.

“Apart from an aging society, problematic lifestyles, including a diet that is rich in fat and oil, are mainly to be blamed,” Huang noted.

During the past decade, China has seen the prevalence of obesity increase by 97 percent and, each year, 10 million people develop various chronic diseases as a result, official statistics show.

To address that, the authorities nationwide have introduced public campaigns promoting health tips, such as taking more exercise and eating a healthy diet with less salt, fat and sugar.

The mass media, which usually is more interested in reporting outbreaks, should play a bigger role in raising awareness about health issues, which remains relatively low among the public, Chan said.

For instance, among the nation’s estimated 92.4 million diabetics, more than 61 percent know nothing about their conditions, according to professor Ji Linong, head of the Chinese Diabetes Society.

“Most of the undiagnosed diabetics are in underprivileged areas, like the countryside, with poor access to health education and quality care,” he said.

Chan urged the so-called “internal inequity” in health to be constantly addressed.

“Due to multiple reasons, like poverty and geographic circumstances, people in the eastern parts of China live relatively better lives than their counterparts in the western parts and we are glad to see the government has initiated efforts to promote health among disadvantaged groups,” she said, citing the government’s new rural cooperative medical insurance, which now covers more than 98 percent of the rural population.

Source: China Daily

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