150 million Chinese will have the disease by 2040 if habits don't change, WHO says
Students exercise during a campaign to prevent diabetes at a primary school in Binzhou, Shandong province, Nov 13, 2008. [Photo/IC]
An increasing number of children in China face an elevated risk of developing diabetes, mainly because of unhealthy diets and a lack of physical exercise, experts warned on Thursday, which was World Health Day.
About 110 million adults in China live with diabetes, according to the World Health Organization.
It expects the number to increase to 150 million by 2040 if action is not taken to improve eating habits and encourage exercise.
"Rates of Type 2 diabetes in China have exploded in the last couple of decades," said Bernhard Schwartlander, the WHO representative in China.
"In 1980, less than 5 percent of Chinese men had diabetes. Now, more than 10 percent do," he said. "This increase has been largely driven by unhealthy lifestyles－diets that are too high in sugar and fat, and people not getting enough physical activity."
Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common type of diabetes worldwide and affects about 90 percent of those who have the disease. It is the result of the body's ineffective use of insulin and is often triggered by excess body weight and physical inactivity.
Diabetes is incurable and can lead to heart disease, kidney failure and blindness if not properly managed, according to the WHO. It said more than 80 percent of Chinese people aged 11 to 17 are not getting enough physical exercise and noted that rates of obesity in children are increasing rapidly.
Yang Wenying, chairwoman of the Diabetes Branch of the Chinese Medical Association and a professor of metabolic diseases at China-Japan Friendship Hospital, said Type 2 diabetes rates are rising fast among the under 14s. "There are no official figures for the number of patients within that age group, but doctors have noticed an increasing number of such patients in recent years, and most of them are obese," she said.
One reason why there is a growing number of overweight, sedentary children may lie in the nation's family planning policy over the past several decades, and the fact that many families have a sole child who is doted on and may be overfed, she said.
More than 5.8 million Chinese children under 5 are overweight-about 7 percent, according to a nutrition report released by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, an international organization launched by the United Nations in 2002. The number of overweight people under 20 rose by more than 200 percent between 1980 and 2013, the report said.
Liang Xiaofeng, deputy chief of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said a modern sedentary lifestyle contributed to the sharp rise in diabetes in China.
He said many schools lack exercise facilities, and teachers are generally reluctant to lead physical activities because of fears that students could be injured.
"All of us can do more to reduce our own risk－by healthy eating, and getting more exercise. Governments at all levels and the broader community also have a role to play－to make healthy choices easier for everyone," Schwartlander said.