China: ills with capitalist characteristics

July 26, 2011 1:55 pm by Patti Waldmeir

Everyone knows China is good at copying things Western – like handbags and iPods and even whole Apple stores – but increasingly, the Chinese are aping the worst aspects of Western culture, along with jeans and electronics. Increasingly China is copying the diseases of capitalism, like heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and diabetes.

According to a report today from the World Bank, the Chinese Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation, “Toward a Healthy and Harmonious Life in China: Stemming the Rising Tide of Non-Communicable Diseases”, China is experiencing an “epidemic” of non-communicable diseases – the kind that the third world poor (with their malaria and malnutrition) can only dream about.

The report says the number of cases of cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, diabetes and lung cancer among Chinese people over 40 will double or even triple over the next two decades – unless Beijing does something to prevent it.

According to the report:

This trend is rooted in the social, economic, and environmental changes the country has experienced in recent decades, in particular, the rapid aging of the population and exposure to health risk factors such as high smoking rates among males, growing obesity due to increased consumption of fast foods rich in fat and salt, sugar-rich soft drinks and decreased physical activity in cities.

In other words, these are diseases of wealth creation.

China’s exploding health problem will strain the economy and could cause serious social problems, the report says – whereas tackling it could save the country a lot of money.

Reducing cardiovascular diseases by one percent per year from 2010-1040 could generate an economic value equivalent to 68 percent of China’s real GDP in 2010, more than US$10.7 trillion, the report says. It is the kind of statistic familiar from healthcare debates worldwide: every society on earth could save money if its citizens would just jog more.

But in China, there could be an added impact on wealth creation: it seems that rich entrepreneurs – the kind who generate a lot of China’s wealth — die even earlier than poorer Chinese. According to figures published in state media last week, since 2003, some 72 renminbi billionaires have died earlier than they ought to have done – from accidents, murder, suicide or illness. (An unususually high number were also executed for getting rich illegally, the report notes).

When it comes to electronics or entertainment, China is trying hard to cast off its image as a copycat culture – but when it comes to the diseases of capitalism, it seems China is getting better and better at duplication.



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