More than 3 million people die prematurely each year in China from diseases that are largely preventable, according to a report released on Monday by the World Health Organisation.
In 2012, 38 million deaths from noncommunicable diseases, also known as chronic diseases, were recorded globally - including an estimated 8.6 million deaths in China, it said.
Alarmingly, the report reveals that nearly 4 in 10 deaths from chronic disease in Chinese men, and around 3 in 10 such deaths among Chinese women, are premature - that is, occurring before the age of 70.
"The report is a dramatic wake-up call. There is an urgent need for strong action now -to stop millions of Chinese men and women from dying in their most productive years from diseases that can be prevented simply by changing common unhealthy lifestyle habits: smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, unhealthy diet and not enough physical activity," said Bernhard Schwartlander, WHO representative in China.
The World Bank has estimated that China would see an economic gain of $10.7 trillion between 2010 and 2040 from reducing cardiovascular disease mortality alone by just 1 per cent.
Chronic diseases have major costs for individuals, families, health systems, the economy and society more broadly - especially in low-and middle income countries that bear a disproportionate share of the burden, experts warned.
Margaret Chan, WHO director general, said that in emerging economies like China, there is a real risk, if urgent action is not taken, that economic gains from rapid growth and economic development could be wiped out by the economic losses from premature mortality and low productivity and workforce participationcaused by chronic diseases.
Schwartlander added: "China is making some progress, in some areas - including the recent strong action we have seen on tobacco control in Beijing and nationally. Once these tobacco control laws are implemented,we expect to see a big impact on the smoking rate in China."
"But more needs to be done to address other causes of the explosion in NCDs (noncommunicable diseases) in China - to stop the tsunami of chronic disease that looms just over the horizon."
According to Schwartlander, investment in health systems - in particular in primary healthcare services close towhere people live -is a crucial weapon in the fight against chronic disease.
Worldwide, noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, heart and lung disease, stroke and diabetes remain the leading cause of deaths worldwide - and many of these deaths are premature and preventable, according to the new report.