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Nutrition transition and related health challenges over decades in China


Since the Opening of China, the country’s economy has continuously and rapidly improved. Various economic, educational, and health policies have been implemented to shape the development of society, which may have greatly affected the Chinese diet and related malnutrition issues. The objective of the present review was to comprehensively review long-term trends in dietary intakes, nutrition status, and subsequent health challenges among Chinese adults. The data sources were mainly the 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2010–2012 China National Nutrition Surveys (CNNS) and reports and the 1989–2015 China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS). Over decades, there have been significant changes in the dietary structure of Chinese adults, characterized as decreased intake of cereals and vegetables and increased intake of animal foods with pork dominating. Intakes of eggs, fish, and dairy has reminded at a low level, with only a small increase over time. Consumption of cooking oil and salt was substantively far above the recommendations. A great proportion of fat-to-energy intake and “hidden hunger” was still prominent. Despite nutrition deficiency, there have been some modest improvements in related diseases, but overweight and obesity has become a prominent issue, with the prevalence in adults increasing from 16.4% and 3.6% in 1982 to 30.1% and 11.9% in 2012, respectively. In conclusion, this review sheds light on some salient problems with nutrition and malnutrition status in China, especially the dual challenges of undernutrition and overnutrition. Dynamic monitoring of nutritional characteristics in China should be strengthened, and effective strategies to improve nutrition need to be targeted at the national, societal, family, and individual levels.

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Fig. 1: Trends of animal-food consumption in China.
Fig. 2: Trend in percentage of energy intake from carbohydrate, protein, and fat among Chinese by CNNS survey cycle from 1982 to 2012.
Fig. 3: The prevalence of overweight and obesity among chinese adults, from 1992 to 2012.


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Correspondence to Bing Zhang or Gangqiang Ding.

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Huang, L., Wang, Z., Wang, H. et al. Nutrition transition and related health challenges over decades in China. Eur J Clin Nutr 75, 247–252 (2021).

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