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Making health a habit: 'Healthy China' on the way

Xinhua | Updated: 2016-11-25 09:28

Taking folic acid during pregnancy, exercising on community lots, regular health check ups. These habits were almost unheard of in China a few decades ago.

Addressing the four-day Ninth Global Conference on Health Promotion (GCHP), which ended Thursday, Premier Li Keqiang announced that China's average life expectancy was 76.3, the maternal mortality rate was 20.1 per 100,000 and infant mortality was 8.1 per 1,000.

China's averages beat many middle- and high-income countries, Li said. "For China, the world's largest developing country with over 1.3 billion people, such accomplishments are no mean feat."

Behind the achievements are policies rolled out by the central government, and, of equal importance, the more health-conscious mindset of the populous.

"People should avoid too much salt, sugar or oil," "Always pay attention to blood pressure and blood glucose," "Don't abuse antibiotics" -- these are all featured in a brochure the government has distributed to the public.

Released in 2008 and amended in 2015, the brochure contains 66 simple but practical pieces of health advice, the first document of its kind released by any government in the world.

The guideline is a tool for residents wanting to live healthier lives and prevent chronic diseases.

According to "Healthy China 2030," which was released in October, China plans to increase the average life expectancy to 77.3 by 2020, and 79 by 2030. Chronic diseases, however, remain an obstruction as the fatality rate rose from 76.5 percent in 1990 to 86.6 percent in 2015.

In east China's Shandong Province, where residents favor salty, preserved food, a government project to reduce salt intake has changed residents' lifestyles.

The five-year project started in 2011, when the average daily salt intake in Shandong was 12.5 grams and 23.9 percent of residents suffered from high blood pressure.

Promotions about low-salt food were held in supermarkets, and manufacturers were encouraged to include the salt content of their products on labels.

"Manufacturers quickly realized that low-salt foods not only saved them money but were also popular with customers," said Zuo Yi, director of the Health and Family Planning Commission of Shandong.

As more low-salt products become available and the population more educated, the average daily salt intake in Shandong has dropped 2.4 grams and the number of people suffering from blood pressure fell by 1.7 percentage points by 2016, according to China Youth Daily.

Healthy habits are spreading.

In Shanghai, "self health management group" have sprung up around the city to share health tips, organize exercise classes and exchange experiences.

Currently there are 26,000 such groups in Shanghai, with 440,000 members.

"Members take home their new found knowledge and share it with their families and friends," said Li Guangyao, an official from a Shanghai health association.

China wants to achieve a society with high health literacy.

Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Margaret Chan said, in a speech at the GCHP, that health literacy should be realized at both the personal and the political and policy levels, adding that there is still long way to go.

"Health promotion is essentially about delivering messages that change human behavior. For example no smoking, healthy diet and more physical activities, and there is nothing harder to do in all of public health," she said.

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