New national data show alarming increase in obesity and noncommunicable chronic diseases in China

On 30 June 2015, China released The Nutrition and Health Status of the Chinese People national report,1 describing recent patterns and trends in Chinese residents’ nutritional status and noncommunicable chronic diseases (NCDs), which was developed based on recent national data. The challenges in China including what we and others previously reported serve as an alarming example of the growing global epidemic of NCDs.2, 3, 4

Although the new national data show obvious improvement in Chinese people’s nutritional status including increased height and reduced undernutrition problems, they revealed an alarming increase in obesity and NCDs during the past decade (Table 1). Obesity prevalence and NCDs mortality and morbidity have increased steadily since 2002, whereas for some diseases such as diabetes the increase is more dramatic. In 2012, prevalence of hypertension and diabetes was 25.2 and 9.7%, respectively, compared with 18.8 and 2.6% in 2002, respectively. Between 1993 and 2003, cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevalence increased from 31.4 to 50.0%. Between 1992 and 2002, prevalence of overweight and obesity (18 years) increased from 14.6 to 21.8%.2

Table 1 Changes in nutritional status and NCDs in China between 2002 and 2012

In 2012, deaths due to NCDs accounted for 86.6% of total mortality, rising from 80% in 2005.3 CVDs, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases were the leading causes of death, accounting for 79.4% of total mortality, whereas CVD mortality (per 100 000) was 271.8. Its contribution to total deaths in 2002 was 32%,3 whereas CVD mortality (per 100 000) in 2002 was 145.2

Cancer incidence rates have also increased.2, 5 In 2013, cancer incidence (per 100 000) was 235. The rate was highest for lung cancer in men and breast cancer in women. In 2012, cancer mortality (per 100 000) was 144.3. The five leading causes of cancer-related deaths were as follows: lung cancer, liver cancer, stomach (gastric) cancer, esophageal cancer and colorectal cancer. Nevertheless, mortality rates decreased for NCDs (likely due to better health care), except for a few such as coronary heart disease and lung cancer, in which it increased.

These high rates and steady increase in obesity and NCDs in China are likely a result of multiple factors including rapid economic growth and urbanization and shifts in people’s lifestyles. Lifestyle risk factors such as smoking (52.9% of men), unhealthy diet (for example, inadequate consumption of vegetables and fruits, excessive intake of fat and sodium), lack of physical activity, sedentary behaviors and prevalent alcohol consumption have contributed to the rapid rise in NCDs. China needs to take more effective and vigorous actions to promote healthy lifestyles and control NCDs.


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The study was supported in part by the National Institute of Health and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD, Grant Number U54HD070725). The U54 project is co-funded by the NICHD and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR). Dr Weidong Qu’s effort is also supported by a research grant from the Chinese national science foundation (80173025).


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Correspondence to Y Wang.

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Wang, Y., Wang, L. & Qu, W. New national data show alarming increase in obesity and noncommunicable chronic diseases in China. Eur J Clin Nutr 71, 149–150 (2017).

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