The mention of twice-cooked pork, pickled vegetables and hot pot is guaranteed to whet the appetite of any gourmet visiting Sichuan Province.
But a report released by the Sichuan provincial disease control and prevention center may make them think twice before tucking into such delicacies.
According to the Report on Sichuan Residents' Nutrition and Health, around 10 million of the 87 million Sichuanese suffer from hypertension.
Deng Ying, a leading official at the center, said that the problem is a result of the high levels of cholesterol in the hot pot dishes popular with local people.
In addition, the average Sichuan resident's salt intake is 10 g a day, 4 g more than the amount recommended by doctors, Deng said.
Li Ping, a doctor at the Sichuan No 5 Hospital in Chengdu, added: "Sichuan people like salty food. For example, pickled vegetables are a regular accompaniment to many families' meals."
The latest investigation into the causes of death of Sichuan people, conducted two years ago, showed that chronic lung, cerebrovascular and heart diseases are the biggest culprits.
"Cerebrovascular and heart diseases are related to hypertension. If high blood pressure is not effectively controlled, it can result in cerebrovascular and heart problems," Deng said.
The center's investigation also found that about 2.5 million people in Sichuan are diabetic.
"The higher a family's income, the higher the incidence of diabetes," Deng said.
She attributed the problem to a change in diet. "Most people like eating meat rather than potatoes," she said.
According to an investigation in 1992, the average Sichuan person ate 186 g of potatoes a day. But the daily intake has now dropped to 73.9 g, while the daily intake of meat has risen from 63.8 g in 1992 to 91.6 g.
The average national meat intake is 78.6 g a day, Deng said.
Many hypertension and diabetes sufferers are elderly urban residents.
"Older people know less about the right way to eat. They usually consider meat as good food," said Huang Suzhen, a chef in Chengdu.
But the provincial disease control and prevention center found that most people below 40 are indifferent to the idea of changing their eating habits to prevent chronic diseases. Almost all those who consider chronic diseases problematic are above 50 and have already contracted such diseases.
"Many young people do not care about the right diet. They think they will be healthier if they eat more meat," Huang said.
According to Deng, many young people did not know they were suffering from hypertension when the center conducted the investigation.
Deng suggested people eat more potatoes, fruit and vegetables, take a proper amount of meat, milk and eggs, take less salt and quit smoking. "Taking more exercise is also important," she said.
The investigation by Deng's center is the largest probe into the province's nutrition and health situation.
The study, launched five years ago, is part of the fourth national nutrition and health investigation sponsored by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Bureau of Statistics.
(China Daily November 3, 2007)