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Nutritional imbalance plagues people
By He Na (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-11-12 22:25

Senior medical experts have suggested that establishing scientific and rational food consumption initiative is an urgent mission in China to deal with nutritional deficiencies and imbalances across the nation, said Zhao Lin, the Ministry of Health's chief nutrition expert.

He also emphasized the importance of raising awareness of nutrition and popularizing nutritional knowledge among government officials and the public.

He made the remarks this week at a symposium on a survey of the nutritional and health of status among Chinese. The survey was released on October 12.

The report shows that nutrition and health problems still haunt most Chinese people.

Irrational diets, deficiencies in micro-nutrients such as iodine, iron and vitamins have already become a nationwide problem and a vast number of people suffer from sub-standard health.

The report also notes incidences of chronic diseases have seen a sharp rise in some remote regions of the country.

With nearly 720 million people living in the iodine-poor regions, China is among the worst hit countries from diseases caused by a lack of iodine.

According to a survey conducted by the National Statistics Bureau, malnutrition caused by deficiency of micro-nutrients results in a loss of 30 billion yuan (US$3.61 billion) annually, accounting for 3-4 per cent of the gross domestic product.

"Public nutrition has a great bearing on population quality, economic development and social progress," said Ye Lei, from the US Centre for Prevention and Disease Control.

Ye also said that China's nutrition structure is much more complicated than that of Western countries.

For instance, the problem of nutritional surpluses is serious in Beijing, Shanghai and some coastal large- and medium-sized cities in the southeast while impaired nourishment is rampant in some poverty-stricken regions.

More and more overweight youths and the mushrooming of all kinds of weight-reduction centres have become a spectacle in urban areas of China.

Some experts point out that expansions of fast food chains are partially responsible for the trend.

"The popularization of Western fast food and lifestyles not only should be blamed for jeopardizing people's health, but also has great impacts on the development of traditional Chinese foods and diets," Zhao said.

"Most of the citizens do not have a clear concept on a healthy and balanced diets," said Bao Shanfen, a researcher at the Chinese PLA General Hospital. He carried out an investigation of people's diets in six districts of Beijing, finding that many families overuse cooking oil and salt, with some taking in as much as 13 to 15 grams of salt a day.

And experts warned that large inflow of these things can lead to hypertension or some other chronic diseases.

"Taking some mandatory measures in nutrition replenishment may be an effective way to improve Chinese public nutrition conditions," said Zhou Haichun, professor from the Centre for Public Nutrition and Development of China (PNDC), suggesting adding additional nutrition to some most important food such as flour.

"The country should also draft a long-term development plan in accordance with the national conditions and promulgate corresponding regulations and policies to change the status quo as soon as possible," Zhou said.

For example, the quality and safety of additive in the flour should be brought under close surveillance to benefit the utmost number of people.

"We should try our best to ensure those who are in urgent need get what they need, especially those undernourished groups and people with low-incomes," Zhou said.

An old Chinese proverb says a simple diet with vegetables and bean curd can offer a person a healthy life.

Most experts favour the traditional diet structure which has relied mainly on vegetables for thousands of years.

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