China / Society

Health experts call for education on healthier eating

By Wang Qingyun ( Updated: 2012-12-07 21:58

China needs to change its people's dietary habits if the country hopes to control and lower the number of incidents of chronic diseases, experts from the World Health Organization and the country said on Friday.

According to the WHO, by 2020, 73 percent of the world's deaths will be attributed to chronic diseases, among which cardiovascular diseases are among the most prominent kinds.

Right now, 260 million Chinese people have been diagnosed with chronic diseases, and 85 percent of all deaths in China are caused by such diseases, according to the Ministry of Health.

What's more, cardiovascular diseases afflict more people than any other kind of chronic condition, said Wang Linhong, executive deputy director of the National Center for Chronic and Non-communicable Disease Control and Prevention.

Salt or sodium consumption, one of the key causes of hypertension that can lead to cardiovascular diseases, is much higher in China than is recommended by the WHO.

"An average Chinese person consumes 12 to 14 grams of salt per day. The optimum recommendation of WHO is consumption of less than 5 grams of salt per day," said Douglas Bettcher, director of the WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative. "It's estimated that salt added during cooking and at the table accounts for about 72 to 73 percent of sodium intake in China."

Wang agreed, saying that higher salt consumption by the Chinese people is a result of both a long-term diet and cooking pattern that favors strong tastes and a lack of understanding by many people of the link between excessive salt consumption and cardiovascular problems.

In November, the WHO member states agreed to a set of voluntary targets to prevent and control chronic diseases by 2025, among which daily salt intake is expected to be reduced by 30 percent among people aged 18 and above.

Also in May, the Ministry of Health issued a plan to prevent and control chronic diseases from 2012 to 2015, in which it sets the goal that by 2015, the average intake of salt per person per day will be reduced to less than 9 grams.

In order to meet the target, east China's Shandong province is now working with the Ministry of Health on a project to reduce salt in take among its residents.

"We conducted a survey on the intake of salt intake for the project last year, and found that an average Shandong resident consumes more than 12 grams of salt per day," said Wang. "Now the project is working to intervene businesses such as the food processing industry and restaurants and educating public on healthier way of cooking."

However, she admitted that achieving the targets set by both the WHO and the country will be challenging. "Salt reduction is not just the business of the health sector. It needs relevant industries and their supervising ministries to actively take part," she added.

Robert Beaglehole, professor emeritus at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said that besides initiatives supported by the government, media can play a positive role in the campaign to prevent and control chronic diseases.

"The death rate (of chronic diseases) in New Zealand began to fall before the government got involved because it was the media that reported the stories and risk factors. … Some people, with that information, can make changes" in their lifestyles, he said, adding that spreading information on prevention is important.

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