Children in China More Likely to get Diabetes than Children in America

Teenagers in China are four times as likely to get diabetes than those from the United States. This was discovered by a study led by Barry Popkin, Ph.D., W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of nutrition at University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The researchers used data from the longest ongoing study of its kind in China, China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS). They analyzed data from over 29,000 people that were followed from 1989 to 2011 in 300 different communities in China.

While comparing data from the CHNS to the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) in the United States the researchers found the rates of diabetes were higher in the youth from China. Children aged 12-18 from China had a 1.9 percent compared to 0.5 percent of American children who had diabetes. They also found that 11 percent of Chinese children and 30 percent of Chinese adults are currently overweight.

“Those who are Asian, Native American, African American have more thrifty genes and are more likely to store fat. These populations come from ancestry that experienced bouts of famine and needed to store extra fat to survive,” said Sarah Kahn, Resident Pharmacist with, in an email. “Fat around the abdomen is an indicator that could lead to diabetes.”

Thrifty genes are part of a theory created by geneticist James V. Neel in 1962. He believes that these genes increased a person’s ability to store fat while food was widely available to help them survive periods of famine.  He also theorized this is why there are more people obese today, because there is an abundance amount of food and never a shortage.

Half-a-century ago China’s population was plagued with starvation and an estimated 30 million people died due to the poorly managed agricultural policies at the time. The scarcity of food is no longer an issue and with the introduction of Western Society’s culture of fast food, they have easier access to foods high in fat, salt and sugar.

An ACNeilson survey reported that since the introduction of the first American fast food restaurant in 1987, 97 percent of the Chinese population has eaten at one.

“What is unprecedented is the changes in diet, weight and cardiovascular risk for children age 7 and older,” said Popkin to “These estimates highlight the huge burden that China’s health care system is expected to face if nothing changes.”

The health care system is dealing with an economy that has been targeted by American food corporations. Theses corporation have heavily marketed towards the youth and until the Chinese government steps in to regulate these predatory tactics, obesity and diabetes in its children will undoubtedly continue to rise.

The study is online in Obesity Reviews Early View Section and will be published in the September issue (Obesity Reviews Volume 13, Issue 9, September 2012). Obesity Reviews is an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO;


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