China may get old, fat before it gets rich

China may get old, fat before it gets rich
PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY - China's growing prosperity over the last three decades has lifted millions of its 1.39 billion people out of poverty, all but wiped out malnutrition and given the burgeoning middle class a new set of aspirations, including eating the best food money can buy.

The desperate days of the 1958-62 Great Leap Forward, during which between 30 million and 45 million people died from famine and exhaustion under Mao Zedong's disastrous agricultural collectivization, are long gone.

Nowadays many Chinese consumers can afford Belgian chocolate, French cheese, Scotch whisky, New Zealand lamb, Australian beef and whatever other epicurean delight takes their fancy.

One unwelcome consequence of China's economic progress is a rise in diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer and other obesity-related illnesses, as a generation of newly prosperous consumers comes to grips with diets rich in fats, sugar, starches, oils and processed food. Combine that with rapid urbanization, car ownership and more sedentary lifestyles, and the outlook is for a fatter, less healthy China, particularly in big cities.

Global epidemic

In Beijing, statistics released in early June by the capital's Health and Family Planning Commission showed more than 21 per cent of the city's permanent adult population between the ages of 18 and 79 is clinically obese. Beijing has about 21.5 million people, including 8.2 million internal migrants.

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