Nutrition and health in China, 1949 to 1989

Prog Food Nutr Sci. 1990;14(2-3):93-137.


Since the establishment of a new social order in 1949, China's attempts to feed and nurture its large population has been a topic of serious study in many disciplines. This review focuses on dietary sources of Chinese population and incidence, increase and decline of important diet related health disorders in China during the last four decades. Literature published since 1949 on goiter, rickets, riboflavin deficiency, beri beri, vision impairment, favism, cancer, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, hypertension, dental and smoking related diseases, diabetes mellitus, pancreatitis, lactose intolerance, mineral deficiency, Kashin-Beck disease, parasitic diseases and genetic disorders are reviewed. Also presented selectively are reports related to ethnodietetics, health care, maternal health and pediatric care as well as longevity. In the 1980s, total caloric intake of Chinese population showed a 19% increase on a daily basis from that of late 1940s. In overall terms, plant derived foods supplied 93% of energy, 87% of protein and 55% of fat to the Chinese. Among the animal foods, pork remains the most common and least expensive form of meat, contributing more than 90% of China's total meat production excluding poultry and fish. In 1949, the life expectancy in China was only 36 years. In early 1980s, it has increased to 68 years. This increase in life expectancy is attributed mostly to improved nutrition and lowering of mortality due to decrease in infectious diseases. Though population, disease and mortality statistics of modern China are spotty and sometimes questionable, common consensus among the researchers is that since 1949 the public health situation in China has improved tremendously.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • China / epidemiology
  • Diet*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Disorders / drug therapy
  • Nutrition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Public Health*