Life expectancy rising in China: studies

Updated: 2015-10-28 06:07

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York(China Daily USA)

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Life expectancy in China is rising and child mortality has fallen, according to studies of different regions in the country.

The studies, published in the United Kingdom-based The Lancet on Monday, were conducted by researchers in China and the United States. They included the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Office for Maternal and Child Health Surveillance, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Researchers focused on 31 provinces, municipalities, autonomous regions of China and Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions.

Life expectancy in China has increased an average of 8.5 years from 1990, bolstered by a decline in infectious diseases and infant mortality. Shanghai had the highest life expectancy in China in 2013, 80.2 years for men and 85.2 for women, and is now comparable to the world’s highest life expectancies in France and Japan.

There appears to be some inequality in certain provinces as life expectancy is about 10 years lower for both men and women in some western provinces, according to the studies.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, wrote in an e-mail that it is typical for less developed regions (such as some of the western provinces) because of their lower gross domestic product (GDP) level and poorer public health and education standards, to have a lower average life expectancy.

One study found that that every Chinese province has seen a decline in deaths of children under the age of 5 since 1970.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), associated with smoking and air pollution, is the leading cause of death in Yunnan, as it is in many southern and western provinces, including Chongqing, Gansu, Guizhou, Qinghai, and Sichuan, the studies showed. In northern provinces, heart disease is a leading cause of death with Heilongjiang having a heart disease death rate four times greater than Zhejiang, the least-affected province.

What could account for the differences between the provinces? “I suspect that Yunnan and other southwestern provinces have COPD as a leading killer because (they have) high smoking rates. It has been reported that more than 30 percent of residents in Yunnan over 40 are reportedly regular smokers,” wrote Huang. “Plus (the provinces) industrial structure is such that there is a high concentration of coal and non-ferrous metal industries, which is often associated with occupational hazards such as pneumoconiosis.”

The studies come as the Communist Party of China has convened the fifth plenary session of its 18th Central Committee to outline the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) for national development. Earlier this year, Premier Li Keqiang called for further medical reform measures to improve the country’s health care system.

“China's policymakers have emphasized reforming China's health system to address China's changing health needs, and this new evidence may be useful to spur additional innovations in strengthening primary care, chronic disease management, and policies designed to address the greatest burden of disease in each specific locality rather than generic ‘one size fits all’ policies,” Karen Eggleston, director Asia Health Policy Program at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, wrote in an e-mail.

“In a country as large and diverse as China, the greatest health improvements may be through interventions tailored to local needs — for healthy aging in Shanghai, to better reductions in indoor air pollution in western provinces, and support nationally for improved hypertension detection and control, road traffic accident prevention, and other tailored policies to determine the best value in health reforms,” she added.