A heavier China drives cardio, diabetes and healthcare reforms

Rising cardiovascular disease rates in China are directly linked to a change in diet as incomes drive up demand for processed meat with high salt content. That and other dietary changes are creating a heavier population and driving government healthcare cost reforms, Xinhua reports.

The World Health Organization, citing official data, said about 230 million people have cardiovascular disease in China, with annual cardiovascular events predicted to increase by 50% between 2010 and 2030 based on population aging and growth alone.

At the same time, the International Diabetes Federation says China has the world's largest diabetes epidemic, with 114 million people diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2.

Xinhua said that health experts have raised alarm bells over obesity.

"Such improper dietary patterns are making the Chinese unhealthy. Something must be done," said Wang Yanping from the China Medicinal Biotech Association.

Wang said a balanced diet and regular exercise were important, and suggested people eat more cereal and less meat.

Steak and lobster have replaced small portions of meat usually found in many dishes, Xinhua said, as China's breakneck economic growth has allowed people to enjoy fuller diets. According to Xinhua, in Sichuan, the most populous province in southwest China, almost one-third of the population is portly.

Xinhua also cited a 2013 survey that found there were 62 million overweight Chinese, second only to the United States.

The report comes as China eyes a vast overhaul of its healthcare system, favoring private hospitals, new pricing guidelines on drugs designed to erase caps to spur innovation, and a look at public health outcomes.

At the same time, China spent 109.5 billion yuan ($17.9 billion) aiding people who can't afford medical services during the 2009-2014 period, Xinhua said, citing an official.

Jiang Yu of China's Ministry of Finance

Government spending on healthcare rose by an annual average of 13.8% during the period, said Jiang Yu of the Ministry of Finance. In April, the State Council promised to expand assistance to more people and cover more medical expenses.

Drugmakers such as AstraZeneca ($AZN) are closely following China's healthcare reform push. Luke Miels, executive vice president for Global Product & Portfolio Strategy and Corporate Affairs, talked a bit about the dynamic on the first-quarter earnings call.

"So, in terms of China, I think the broad trends remain. You've got high unmet need. As you go into the lower-tier cities and the other provinces, there's still going to be a gap between what most patients can afford and innovative medicine, so that broad pattern is unlikely to change."

And Miels noted that going by the figures, AstraZeneca was still among the top multinationals in China.

"We continue to outgrow the market in China, as measured by IMS. There was some volatility in the industry in China, because of the timing of China New Year. But again, we expect the underlying demand to land at around 18%."

- here are stories from Xinhua on obesity and healthcare spending