A collection of insightful statistics about healthcare and general health in China.
Historically, it’s been fair to say that the average Chinese person was healthier than the average westerner, particularly Americans. They walk more, exercise more, and don’t eat all the crap we tend to.
But has this trend continued as China has adopted fast food, soft drinks, candy and consumerism? Is health in China still at such a high standard when there are now over 300 million smokers?
Let’s take a look at some general statistics dealing with health, obesity and smoking in China.
Life Expectancy and Health Care in China
China’s Life Expectancy as of 2018:
- Total population: 76.4 years (#51 world ranking)
- Male: 75 years
- Female: 77.9 years
[WHO life expectancy data, 2018 ]
Life expectancy in China was only around 35 years in 1949, when the Communist Party first took control of the country.
As of 2019, there is only 1 general health practitioner per 6,666 people in China. The international standard, according to the WHO, is usually one doctor per 1,500-2,000 people. China is trying to change this, but it’s still a big problem. [“China’s Healthcare Crisis“, The New York Times, January 7, 2019]
By 2020, all Chinese citizens are supposed to have access to basic health services, according to the government. The program, launched in 2009, was named “Healthy China 2020” and the vision was expanded in 2016 to be “Healthy China 2030”. In general, the program has been deemed a success, although it was expanded to provide more time to reach certain goals. [“China’s Health Reform, 10 Years On“, The Lancet; September 1, 2019]
More than 40% of total health spending goes to medicines in China, a disproportionately high amount compared to most other countries, according to World Bank research. [“China Healthcare Market and Key Recent Policy Updates” CITIC Capital, 2016]
Health in China | The Obesity Problem
If you weren’t already aware, China has an obesity crisis on its hands. Here are some startling statistics to prove it.
In China, one in five children is classified as obese. This is even more shocking when you consider that back in 1995, that number was only 1 out of 20 children. [CNN “One in Five Chinese Children is Obese” March 19, 2019]
Urban Chinese boys age 6 are 2.5 inches taller and 6.6 pounds heavier on average than Chinese city boys 30 years ago, according to reports from China’s own Health Ministry.
China has more obese children than any other country in the world. China is also now second beyond only the United States for obese adults. [SCMP “China has the largest number of obese children in the world, study says“ June 13, 2017]
China’s “obesity explosion” has resulted in growth of Chinese fat camps, which costs about a thousand U.S. dollars (U.S.) per child. [SCMP “China’s Boot Camp for Fat Kids” August 6, 2017]
Nearly 100 million Chinese people are obese, according to official statistics. British economist Paul French and author of “Fat China” explained: “In the last 30 years they’ve gone from famine to feast in just two generations”. [Fat China by Paul French]
Between 5 percent and 10 percent of Chinese youth are now obese, according to the World Health Organization. The “dramatic increase in obesity” has resulted from the China’s “growing class of educated and well-paid consumers (who) adopt some Western-style shopping and eating habits.” [WHO; PBS Newshour “For China’s Growing Middle Class, Expanding Waistlines Pose Problem” June 1, 2010]
About 8.1% of Chinese children in urban areas are obese, compared to 3.1% in rural areas. When you look at maps of China’s population density, this is a staggering percentage. [National Geographic News “Obesity Explosion May Weigh on China’s Future” August 8, 2006]
China’s obesity rate has been exploding—about 30% to 50% annually (or six million to 10 million more obese every year). [PBS Newshour “For China’s Growing Middle Class, Expanding Waistlines Pose Problem” June 1, 2010]
About one in 10 adults in China have diabetes (representing about 90 million diabetics). [BBC News “China faces obesity explosion” Sept. 25, 2010]
Smoking in China | Statistics and General Attitudes
China loves to smoke, as these sobering statistics show.
China is the world’s largest consumer and producer of tobacco. China has about 350 million smokers and produces 42% of the all cigarettes in the world. [WHO; Wikipedia “Smoking in the People’s Republic of China”]
One of every three cigarettes consumed around the world is smoked in China. [SUPChina, “China’s Cigarette Smoking Epidemic” September 5, 2019]
More than 300 million Chinese adults smoke—among them more than half of all Chinese men.
[Newsweek “Smoking All the Profits” Feb. 13, 2011 ]
Among China’s youth, about a third of male teens smoke and nearly 8% of females. While this is true, it’s still not proper China travel etiquette for foreign youth to smoke in the country. [WHO website]
Only 59% of Chinese smokers believe that Chinese society disapproves of smoking, the fourth lowest rate of 14 countries surveyed by the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project. However, this isn’t related to why Chinese don’t smile at strangers. [ITC China Summary, February 2009]
Less than a quarter of Chinese people—both smokers and non-smokers—believe that smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases. [WHO Global Adult Tobacco Survey; Wall Street Journal “China’s Smoking Habit: Inhaling the Numbers” Aug. 17, 2010]
Almost 60% of male doctors in China are smokers, representing the highest percentage of smoking doctors in the world. It’s so bad that in 2004, a survey was conducted that found 42% of Chinese male surgeons had reported smoking in front of their patients. [Wikipedia “Smoking in the People’s Republic of China”]
In China, smoking is banned in all indoor public places, workplaces and public transport. This is relatively new, though. Smoking was only banned in hospitals starting in 2009 and in indoor public areas in 2015.
It is estimated that 1 million Chinese die per year due to smoking. If the smoking rate does not decrease, then the number of deaths due to smoking will triple by 2050. [Caixin, “China Not Doing Enough to Stub out Smoking“ November 19, 2018]
The China National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC) is the world’s largest producer of tobacco products, accounting for about 30% of global supply. The CNTC enjoys a “virtual monopoly” in China. [Wikipedia “China National Tobacco Corp”]
Tax payments from the tobacco industry account for an estimated 8% of the central government revenues each year. [Wall Street Journal “China’s Smoking Habit: Inhaling the Numbers” Aug. 17, 2010]
Final Thoughts | Health, Obesity & Smoking in China
There’s no doubt that every country in the world needs to improve the health of their citizens, but statistics show that China has quite a big job on its hands.
As the economy improves, access to fast food increases, and smoking becomes even easier (e-cigarettes, anyone?), it has become harder and harder for China to reach it’s health goals.
There are plenty of other China statistics that are interesting – sometimes alarming – but health is probably top of the list.