Doctors are warning of new health risks to the rural population as their living conditions improve.
"An increasing number of people have diabetes or are at risk to the disease in the rural areas, and at a younger age," Ning Guang, professor of endocrinology and vice president of Shanghai Ruijin Hospital, said at the third International Endocrine Symposium in Shanghai on Friday.
The disease is grouped under metabolic syndrome - risk factors linked to overweight and obesity that increase a person's likelihood of suffering a heart attack, diabetes, stroke, and hypertension.
Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases. In China, 40 million people are estimated to have diabetes, ranking second in the world after India.
The figure is almost five times that of 1980s, or an increase of 3,000 a day.
People that show signs of contracting diabetes in the rural areas is about 4 percent more than those in the urban areas, Ning said.
The number of people with diabetes in the urban areas is about 8 to 10 percent, which is basically stable and has been gradually decreasing; and in the rural areas the number is about 5 percent.
"It can be seen that one day many people among the pre-diabetes group will contract diabetes," he said.
"The shift will be more marked in the rural areas in the coming years.
Ning said: "The most obvious change in the living conditions of rural people is in their diet. More and more of them today can afford fish, chicken and Western fast food.
"These foods are high in fat, cholesterol and calories, but low in fiber. They are far from healthy.
"They lead to obesity and eventually metabolic syndrome," Ning said.
He said if these problems are not addressed promptly, they could pose a heavy burden on the society in the next 20 to 30 years.
(China Daily October 22, 2008)