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Chinese senior citizens' health causes concern

By Zhang Yiwei (Global Times)

09:59, June 05, 2013

An alarming number of Chinese senior citizens suffer from health problems or depression, with the insurance system hardly able to cover their living or medical costs, according to a landmark study into China's aging population released Friday.

The nation is struggling to cope with the problem of a rapidly aging society, the report found.

The China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study, conducted by Chinese and Western academics, polled some 18,000 individuals in 28 regions, provinces and municipalities. It found that some 24 percent, or 44 million people aged over 60 need help in their daily activities.

The study revealed that 40 million seniors nationwide have high blood pressure, but are unaware of their condition. Another 40 percent suffer from depression.

Yang Gonghuan, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the project leaders, told the Global Times that a healthy aging population can produce positive influences to the economy, instead of burdens.

"Apart from focusing on the health of elderly people themselves, there needs to be a broader consideration of improving the health of younger people," Yang said. "Policymakers should consider more about health factors when making decisions on, for example, food safety or occupational diseases." Policy is lacking in this regard, he said.

China had around 185 million people aged over 60 by the end of 2011, the largest aging population in the world, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The UN projects the share of this elderly population in China will increase from 12 percent in 2010 to 34 percent in 2050.

The report pointed out that the current medical insurance and pension system plays less of a role in covering living costs for the elderly, despite its high penetration rate in recent years. For example, the pension payments in rural areas just represent 20 percent of expenditure per capita in a household.

Yu Shaoxiang, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that reimbursements for medical expenses and pensions are at low levels, especially in rural areas.

"To improve the situation, enlarging the government's investment into the field is the key," Yu said. "Expenditure on social insurance just represents a share of less than 10 percent of China's GDP."

The report also suggested that government could look at raising the retirement age in urban areas as one potential solution.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said in June 2012 that they were looking at a proposal to increase the retirement age, which triggered criticism as many people believe that this could create greater pressure on the job market.

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