China can help cure world: Stan­ford ex­pert

As the coun­try be­comes more ad­vanced, it can play a more sub­stan­tial health role: pro­fes­sor

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By LIA ZHU in San Fran­cisco li­azhu@chi­nadai­

Fac­ing an es­pe­cially rapid rise in cases of chronic dis­eases, China is in a good po­si­tion to con­trib­ute to the global ef­fort to cre­ate new so­lu­tions, be­yond work­ing to solve its own prob­lems, said a Stan­ford ex­pert.

“As mid­dle in­come coun­tries like China de­velop eco­nom­i­cally, their health prob­lems more and more re­sem­ble those of fully de­vel­oped na­tions, like the United States,” said Ran­dall Stafford, a pro­fes­sor of medicine at the Stan­ford Univer­sity School of Medicine and di­rec­tor of its pro­gram on preven­tion out­comes and prac­tices.

Although the cur­rent bur­den of chronic dis­ease in China still falls short of that in the US, the rapidly in­creas­ing chronic dis­eases, such as di­a­betes, heart dis­ease, can­cer and stroke, place enor­mous pres­sures on the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment and so­ci­ety, he said.

Na­tional data show that in 1980 only less than 1 per­cent of China’s pop­u­la­tion had di­a­betes; to­day the num­ber is more than 12 per­cent.

The in­crease in chronic dis­ease is mostly the re­sult of wors­en­ing life­style be­hav­ior, such as lim­ited phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, less healthy di­ets, al­co­hol abuse, cig­a­rette smok­ing and bad sleep pat­terns and exposure to un­healthy en­vi­ron­ments, ac­cord­ing to Stafford.

He fur­ther at­trib­uted the be­hav­ior to greater avail­abil­ity of eco­nomic buy­ing power, a shift in the econ­omy to­ward prod­ucts and ser­vices and adop­tion of glob­al­ized health be­hav­iors that are less healthy (such as fast food chains and TV/screen entertainment).

As a re­sult, a grow­ing seg­ment of the work­force is at risk for re­duced pro­duc­tiv­ity and leav­ing the econ­omy be­fore re­tire­ment age, which means a re­duced re­turn on the sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment that has been made in de­vel­op­ing a skilled work­force through ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing, Stafford warned.

“Just at a time when China’s eco­nomic growth is slow­ing be­cause of less reliance on ex­ports, the health of the work­force is also lead­ing to less pro­duc­tiv­ity.

“In­creas­ing chronic dis­ease also places sig­nif­i­cant strain on the health­care sys­tem,” he said.

In the mean­time, China’s cul­ture and his­tory and its grow­ing promi­nence in the world econ­omy also make it a prime place for the devel­op­ment, test­ing and wide­spread im­ple­men­ta­tion of new so­lu­tions, Stafford said.

China’s his­tory of prag­matic pol­i­cy­mak­ing, sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in pub­lic health, cen­tral­ized pol­icy for­mu­la­tion and well-trained pub­lic health re­searchers all en­hance China’s ca­pac­ity to cre­ate ef­fec­tive ap­proaches, he added.

This sum­mer, Stafford’s pro­gram part­nered with Pek­ing Univer­sity to or­ga­nize a grad­u­ate-level sem­i­nar on dis­ease preven­tion, which re­cruited two other Stan­ford ex­perts — a health psy­chol­o­gist and a statis­ti­cian — and 15 stu­dents from each univer­sity as well as more than a dozen Chi­nese ex­perts on dis­ease preven­tion, Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Medicine (TCM), re­search de­sign, pri­mary health care and health care data.

At the con­clu­sion of the sem­i­nar, the stu­dents pro­posed strate­gies aimed at in­di­vid­u­als and poli­cies in pre­vent­ing teenage chil­dren of smok­ers from tak­ing up smok­ing, and re­duc­ing weight gain and the over­all in­take of salt among college stu­dents.

They used a phone app to track the salt in­take among college stu­dents while work­ing with univer­sity din­ing halls to of­fer food choices cooked with less salt.

While in Bei­jing, the Stan­ford ex­perts also teamed up with Bei­jing Can­cer Hos­pi­tal and In­sti­tute to build sta­tis­ti­cal mod­els that at­tempt to track can­cer oc­cur­rence.

The in­no­va­tive ap­proach makes full use of geo­graphic in­for­ma­tion and com­bines and an­a­lyzes the in­for­ma­tion, such as where the can­cer pa­tients lived and worked or what they had been ex­posed to, with­out mak­ing as­sump­tions ahead of time about the causes of can­cer, Stafford ex­plained.

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