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Obesity, myopia growing issues among youth

By WANG XIAOYU | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-19 23:08
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Obesity, myopia and mental illnesses have overtaken infectious diseases as some of the top health concerns confronting Chinese children and adolescents over the past three decades, according to a review of national surveys and data published on Friday.

The overall health condition of young people in China — the world's second-most populous nation with 236 million people between the ages of 6 and 19 — has significantly improved. From 1990 to 2019, the mortality rate among people aged 5 to 19 had dropped from about 77.6 to 27.8 per 100,000 people, said the study published online by medical journal The Lancet.

In 1990, a high prevalence of contagious diseases and incidents such as traffic accidents and drowning were top killers of youth in China.

While the threat of infectious illnesses has been effectively tackled and injuries remain a serious hazard, the report said that new health burdens characterized by excess body fat, poor vision and mental health issues have emerged, according to the study, led by researchers from the Institute of Child and Adolescent Health at Peking University's School of Public Health.

From 1995 to 2019, the prevalence of overweight and obese youth aged 7 to 18 jumped from 5 to 24.2 percent, and the rate of poor vision — including myopia and other vision issues — rose from 41.2 to 60.7 percent.

Mental health issues are also increasingly prominent, but access to professional psychological counseling and treatment has remained insufficient partly due to a lack of services as well as long-standing stigmas associated with such disorders.

Meanwhile, as youth are more sexually active at earlier ages with heightened risks of associated illnesses, the study found that adolescents are in urgent need of sex and reproductive health education.

The study proposed a raft of measures that highlight the coordination of multiple government departments, families, schools and youth themselves to address emerging health challenges.

Recommended strategies are aimed at building supportive and responsive family structures, safe communities and respectful learning environments, it said.

Mao Qun'an, director of the National Health Commission's department of planning and information, said during a news conference on Thursday that being overweight at a young age could impede healthy future development.

"Research from the World Health Organization has shown that unhealthy lifestyles, especially bad dietary habits and lack of exercise, are key factors leading to these conditions. But changing lifestyles is a tough task and requires comprehensive measures from all sectors of society," Mao said.

Xie Bin, Party secretary of the Shanghai Mental Health Center, suggested nurturing more child psychiatrists, spreading awareness about mental health among parents and overcoming associated stigmas to boost mental health.

"It is important to roll out continuous training which targets mental health teachers at school as well as grassroots psychiatric doctors and nurses," Xie said.

Intensified efforts are also needed to promote mental health knowledge among parents, guiding them to care for the psychological well-being of their children and understand that mental disorders can be effectively treated through professional intervention.

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