Chinese Economic Boom Drives Diabetes Time Bomb

| August 2, 2012

We are used to thinking of diabetes as a problem of western civilisation, so I was shocked to see a report recently that showed Chinese children have a rate of diabetes nearly four times greater than their counterparts in the United States. This massive rise in the incidence of diabetes is matched by increases in cardiovascular risk and, according to this study, is the result of a Chinese population that is growing increasingly overweight.

Perhaps these findings should not come as too much of a surprise. China has experienced unprecedented economic growth in the past two decades, coupled with equally dramatic changes in the diets and physical activity levels of its people. The stereotype of the slender, hardworking Chinese peasant is rapidly vanishing, with people in both rural and urban areas now becoming unhealthily overweight.

The study surveyed 29,000 people across the country, from 1989 to 2011. The results showed that 1.9 per cent of Chinese children aged 7 to 17 now suffer from diabetes, compared with 0.5 per cent in the United States. But this is just the tip of an iceberg of metabolic disease. In addition, 11 per cent of Chinese children and 30 per cent of Chinese adults are overweight and this figure is increasing fast. Other cardiometabolic risk factors, such as pre-diabetes, high blood sugar and high levels of cholesterol, blood fats and C-reactive protein were seen in 42 per cent of children and in around 65 per cent of adults aged 18-40.

So, what has caused this new “China syndrome”, which threatens a meltdown of the country’s healthcare system if it cannot be brought under control? It is simply the result of lifestyle changes that involve less exercise (everyone used to walk or cycle, but now they drive) and more of the wrong kinds of food. After centuries of a traditional diet that relied mostly on rice, vegetables, fish and chicken, people have suddenly switched to highly processed, wheat based, high carbohydrate and high fat convenience foods.

What happens when genes and environment collide

I talked in a recent blog post about epigenetics, the study of the interaction between genes and the environment. What has happened in China is a stark illustration of a head on collision between these two factors. Whereas in Europe and America the change in diet and lifestyle has been more gradual, spanning centuries rather than decades, in China it has been abrupt and its effects have been devastating.

We still have thrifty genes, geared to daily physical activity and the low-calorie food intake of the hunter-gatherer or subsistence farmer. Those genes still assume we live in a world without ready meals, fast foods, sugar, wheat or dairy produce. Our genes operate for the good of our health when they interact with a diet that is rich in plant polyphenols and low in terms of glycaemic load (GL) – that is, the degree to which it raises blood sugar levels.

What is happening in China should serve as a wake-up call to the rest of the world. As governments struggle with the massive costs involved in responding to the epidemic of diabetes, they need to take some hard decisions about the way their food industries are allowed to operate. Foods that are high in sugar or have a high GL value should carry the same stark health warnings as cigarettes. And a pricing regime that made unhealthy foods more expensive and healthy ones less so would also get my vote.

Unfortunately, given the political clout of the global food production and processing industries, such measures are not likely to be adopted any time soon and, as usual, any nod in the right direction will probably be “too little, too late”. So, it comes down to each of us to ensure that we are doing everything we can to make the diet and lifestyle choices that will help us to reduce our risk of diabetes or to manage our condition better.

This is not too difficult a task. In my next blog post, I shall be reviewing and summarising some of the information I have given you since the beginning of this year, as a reminder of the many safe and natural ways that you can keep your blood sugar levels under control and transform your health, while reducing your reliance on dangerous drugs.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.

References

1. Yan S, Li J, Li S, Zhang B, Du S, Gordon-Larsen P, Adair L, Popkin B. The expanding burden of cardiometabolic risk in China: the China Health and Nutrition Survey. Obes Rev. 2012 Jun 28. [Epub ahead of print]

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Category: Obesity and Weight Loss

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