Say what you will about the Chinese, but they know how to make wholesale changes, and sometimes those changes are inarguably for the good. As noted in an editorial in The Lancet last week, the life span of the average person in China in 1950 was 40 years; by 2011 it was around 76. (The average life span in the United States in 2011 was 79.)
The causes of this near doubling of life span are no secret: China has developed public health programs that have reduced communicable diseases to a manageable level. This is certainly good news. But it means that people are now dying of noncommunicable diseases, or chronic diseases that are largely preventable. These diseases, most common in wealthier nations, are caused not by malnutrition in the classic sense but by overconsumption of disease-causing foods as well as lack of exercise and environmental dangers.
Because things are moving so fast in China, and because that country can learn from the example of the United States and others, perhaps it can pull off a public-health leapfrog and avoid the West’s fate of a rapid and tragic increase in obesity levels and the diseases with which they’re associated.
Read the rest of this column here.