New health threats for China as it grows richer: Lancet

BEIJING (AFP) - The Chinese are increasingly facing diseases of affluence such as cancer, according to a study to be published on Saturday in a leading medical journal, with threats to health including diet, pollution and city living.

The trends identified in The Lancet, mined from data from 1990 to 2010, illustrate the human impact of China's speedy development and urbanisation.

"Looking back to 1990, China had a health profile very similar to much of the developing world, including countries such as Vietnam or Iraq," said one of three institutes involved in the study.

"It now looks more like the US (United States), UK (United Kingdom) or Australia in some respects," the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington said in a statement.

Among the advances, The Lancet said, were "striking declines in fertility and child mortality and increases in life expectancy at birth".

China's life expectancy has risen from 69.3 in 1990 to 75.7 to 2010, lifting it one spot to 12th place among G20 countries.

Child deaths saw a dramatic drop over the same period from one million to 213,000.

But new health troubles were emerging as more people lived longer and in cities - which could bring better medical care but also more pollution and a sedentary lifestyle.

Leading causes of health problems in China now include stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, low back pain and road injury.

Other top risk factors are tobacco use, dietary risks, high blood pressure, ambient air pollution and household air pollution.

"The rapid rise of non-communicable diseases driven by urbanisation, rising incomes and ageing poses major challenges for China's health system, as does a shift to chronic disability," the report said.

China was "relatively unique" in that five cancers - lung, liver, stomach, esophageal and colorectal - ranked in the top 15 causes of premature death.

The study was undertaken by the Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Peking Union Medical College and IHME.