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China Faces Impending Cardiovascular Epidemic
China faces an impending epidemic of cardiovascular illnesses and should make immediate changes in unhealthy lifestyles for better prevention, a public health official said in Beijing on Sunday.

Cancers, cerebral vascular diseases and heart illnesses have become the top three health-related killers of China's approximately 450 million urban residents, replacing respiratory system diseases, infectious diseases and tuberculosis, prevalent in the 1950s, she said.

In addition, these illnesses, associated with a great improvement in living conditions, are preying on increasing numbers of rural people, said Kong Lingzhi, an official from the Department of Disease Control under the Ministry of Health.

She blamed a lack of physical exercise, unbalanced diets and smoking as major causes of the epidemic, a "serious public health problem which leads not only to extraordinary increases in medical expenses, but also to severe impacts on people's life."

More than 100 million Chinese, or about one in every 13 people in China, are estimated to have high blood pressure, a leading cause of many heart and brain problems.

China has an average of 1.5 million stroke victims and 750,000 cases of myocardial infarction each year, Kong said at a forum on strategies for heart disease control.

China has been listed by the World Health Organization among countries with a rapidly increasing incidence of cardiovascular disease, together with India, Russia, and some eastern European nations, according to Dr. Hu Dayi at the People's Hospital of Beijing.

Kong Lingzhi said China must establish a comprehensive network for disease prevention and control, involving the participation of the government, medical researchers, mass media, and the public.

Despite the proposed measures, experts fear that disease-control efforts may be difficult because the number of people susceptible to such diseases, such as old people, smokers and overweight people, are growing.

About 240 million Chinese over the age of 20 are overweight, and more than 30 million of them are obese according to international standards, Kong said.

A sedentary lifestyle, excessive fat- and salt-rich food intake, and growing psychological pressures make people increasingly vulnerable to cardiovascular disease, said Dr. Hu.

He said the public, particularly the youth, should be educated to participate more in calorie-burning activities, such as walking, jogging, swimming, and hiking.

The forum was organized in celebration of World Heart Day, which falls on Sunday and was established by the World Heart Federation, a non-governmental organization dedicated to the global prevention and control of cardiovascular disease.

(Xinhua News Agency September 30, 2002)

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