Vanessa Shiu, Student Participant
Regina High School, Iowa
Malnutrition and Poverty in China and Around the World
China, whose population has grown from 556 million in 1950 to 1.3 billion today, has grown
tremendously in the last century, internationally, economically, and socially. The Chinese economy’s
growth is 7-8% per year according to statistics by the Chinese government, and is among the fastest
growing internationally. It is because of China’s growing role today that it is important to focus on this
Asian country. Although China has made gains in reducing hunger and poverty, there are still Chinese
who suffer from malnourishment and poverty. These people need to be helped and ways need to be found
to resolve poverty and malnutrition.
Malnutrition literally translates into “bad nourishment.” Malnutrition is the inadequate or excess
intake of nutrients, such as energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. A person is malnourished if he is not
able to fully utilize the food he consumes, if he consumes a surplus amount of calories, or if his diet does
not have enough calories and protein necessary for growth and maintenance of his body. (Malnutrition)
Internationally, more than 800 million people are malnourished, and 777 million of these
malnourished are from the developing world (Malnutrition). There are 177 million malnourished children
in the world (Malnutrition). Malnutrition is especially common among people who have inadequate
access to health education, clean water and good sanitation, all components essential to preventing
malnutrition (Water, Sanitation and Health). Hunger is not the only malnutrition issue internationally.
The obese and overweight population is on the rise around the globe, in both developed and developing
countries (Obesity WHO).
More than 70% of the children suffering from protein-energy malnutrition live in Asia.
Malnutrition can drastically affect a child’s development, both physically and intellectually
(Malnutrition). Daily in developing countries, malnutrition has a part in over half of 30,100 children’s
deaths from mostly preventable and treatable causes such as diarrhea, acute respiratory infections or
China is home to one-fifth of the world’s population, but only seven percent of the world’s
farmland. Agriculture is the livelihood of one in two Chinese, but only 15% of the nation’s land is under
cultivation (Dramer 75). Estimates show that there may be 10-15% of China’s population not receiving
adequate nutrition, especially in rural and less industrialized places. But studies also show that some
Chinese are receiving excess nutrition: 18 million Chinese adults are obese and 127 million are
overweight (Obesity in China common).
With its 1.3 billion people, China is home to many minorities besides the dominant Han Chinese
majority (Green 97). With many people living in both rural and urban environments, with different
lifestyles, it is difficult to define a “typical” family living in China. Since 70% of China’s citizens live in
rural areas, it is safe to assume the typical rural family lives as follows (Waterlow).
This family lives in a small village in southern China and are farmers for a living. With a mother
and father, ages 30 and 32, this family also has one child, a seven year old boy. The mother’s parents also
live with the family, a common occurrence in China, where children are expected to care for their aging
parents. They live in a simple brick house nearby where they farm.
The mother and father of the family received nine years of education, 6 years of elementary and
3 years of secondary, through the local schooling system. Their son is currently in elementary school.
Some rural villagers in China see little point of schooling because they do not use what they learned to
work on the land. Also in China, the number of openings for universities is low, but the number of
applicants is high.
The family’s diet mainly consists of the food they grow, which is rice. They also may consume
some vegetables, grown next to their home, but they rarely eat meat because of its cost. Milk and dairy
products are also rare because of availability. Although the family eats enough food to sustain them, they
do not necessarily receive all of the proper nutritional requirements, like calcium. Also, because they are
on a tight budget, they are not always able to purchase these nutritional foods.
Rice is grown twice a year in water-filled paddies. The men in the village do the plowing and
repairing of the water channels, while the women plant rice. It is difficult labor because the villagers
cannot afford much machinery; they use water buffalo to assist them. In China, animals are still used
more often than tractors. The family does not receive a daily income, but the food that the family does
not eat is sold, and the money is used for food and basic needs. Although the family is able to provide for
themselves, it is still a daily struggle. The family’s needs are mainly food, water and shelter, along with
essentials, such as clothing and daily hygiene. They receive the water they need from a pump located
nearby their home. (Waterlow)
Poverty is not just being poor or not having enough food. Poverty is being denied the basic
opportunity and choices to human development required to have a healthy life and a decent standard of
living. Poverty can distort or change a person’s values, lifestyle, family and community. (Poverty in
Poverty is measured by three factors: the relevant welfare measure, the poverty line, and the
poverty indicator. The relevant welfare measure uses monetary dimensions, for example consumption
versus income, adjusts differences in needs of different households, adjusts differences in prices in
different areas, and also includes health, nutrition and education along with other factors. Cut off points
that divide the poor from the non poor are poverty lines, both monetary and non monetary. Some poverty
indicators are the headcount index, which is the share of the population below the poverty line; the
poverty gap, which is how far off families are from the poverty line; and the squared poverty gap, which
is how far households are from the poverty line along with the inequality in the poor. (Measuring
China’s rural poor in 1978 was 250 million using the government poverty line, and in 1998, was
reduced to 42 million. If one used the dollar per day standard international poverty line, the number of
absolute poor is much greater, but the trend of reduction was still the same. (Poverty in China) The
population below the poverty line in 2001 was 10%. It is clear that the situation in China is gradually
improving. With these improvements, the situation of a typical family will improve also.
Poverty in China may affect women more than men. Although Mao Zedong is famous for his
quote, “Women hold up half the sky,” women today are still not regarded equally (Dramer 56). Women
do not always receive the same amount of education as men. Women are not offered as many jobs as
men and are also paid less for their work. Females are not held as highly in some places in the male
dominant society. Recently, China has made gains in equalizing the role of women, and in 1995 hosted
the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (Dramer 56).
People living in rural China may be disadvantaged compared to their urban counterparts. Rural
children may not receive the same education as ones living in the city and residents in rural parts do not
always receive the same opportunities as urban residents. In China there are an estimated 80-100 million
people on the move, resulting from poverty in rural places (Poverty in China).
There is a high pollution rate in China. The Chinese government hurried to industrialize, but in
the process failed to protect the environment against pollution as a result of industrialization (Dramer 80).
A World Health Organization report on air quality reported that seven of the ten most polluted cities in
the world were in China in 1998 (Environment of China). The leading cause of death in China is
respiratory and heart diseases which can be linked with pollution (Environment of China). Pollution is
also indirectly linked to poverty. When one is struggling for survival, it is not difficult to disregard the
environment, when one’s higher priorities are food, shelter and clean water.
Air pollution may damage crops and the agriculture in China, producing lesser quality goods.
Acid rain in China affects one-fourth of China’s landmass (Beech 48). It is also estimated that since 1949
China has lost 20% of its agricultural land due to soil erosion and economic development (China: The
World Factbook). China has become the second biggest polluter in the world, after the United States
Although resolving pollution would not necessarily erase poverty, it may bring about positive
effects. The government would be able to focus more on pollution clean up and prevention. Reduced
pollution would also result in higher quality crops, unaffected by factory and industrialized emissions.
Resolving poverty would benefit women and small farmers. They would be better able to provide for
themselves and their families. They would also be able to receive a more balanced nutritional intake and
be able to lead healthier lives.
It is not a problem for China to grow enough food for its population, but it does need to improve
its food distribution. Production for rice and other crops is strong. However, people living in rural areas
don’t necessarily always receive the same amount of food as those in urban areas. The government
should identify malnourished areas and make an effort to distribute food to that area for consumption.
They should also improve the transportation systems, in order to efficiently and safely carry goods.
The Chinese government should educate Chinese farmers about better ways to improve farming
and agriculture. People should also be educated on how to better utilize their land. Farmers then will be
better able to provide for themselves and their families. Many farmers are still using old techniques. The
government should also offer more jobs for public improvement, such as roads. China has as many as
100 million unemployed farmers. This would decrease unemployment, but also provide the formerly
unemployed a better life.
Technology and its uses could also be improved. With improved technology, farmers could be
more efficient and could save energy. Even the simple addition of a tractor in some areas would greatly
increase efficiency and decrease the workload of the farmer. Biotechnology research on crops, such as
rice has also been increasing in China. The results of such research could greatly benefit China.
Although China has reached its goal of being 95% self sufficient, it still needs to maintain that sufficiency
(World Hunger- China). With technology, China could continue and perhaps maintain its self
Obesity, another form of malnutrition, is a factor which needs to be resolved in China. A
government report showed that from the years 1992 to 2002, the rate of obesity rose a startling 97%. In
those ten years, over 60 million people became obese. A Chinese vice health minister, Wang Longde has
said about this increase, “The Chinese population does not have enough awareness and lacks knowledge
of what is a reasonable nutrition and diet.” The government should promote proper nutrition and exercise
to its citizens. (Chinese concern at obesity)
Factors of malnutrition include an unsafe and insufficient water supply, poor hygiene and
inadequate sanitation. Both China and the world could help prevent malnutrition by improving access to
water and water quality, and improving hygiene and sanitation. In 2002, 1.1 billion people (17% of the
world) were without access to improved water sources and almost two thirds of that 1.1 billion lived in
Asia. Also in 2002, 2.6 billion people (42% of the population) did not have access to improved
sanitation. Over 50% of those lacking access, almost 1.5 billion, live in China and India. (Water,
Sanitation and Hygiene)
“We shall not finally defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any of the other infectious diseases
that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for safe drinking water, sanitation and
basic health care,” said Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary General (Water, Sanitation and
Hygiene). Many diseases stem from the lack of clean safe water, sanitation and hygiene.
Annually, 1.8 million deaths are attributed to diarrheal diseases, with 88% of diarrheal disease
attributed to unsafe water, and deficient sanitation and hygiene. World wide, 6 million people are
visually impaired by trachoma, a contagious viral disease characterized by inflammation of the
conjunctiva and cornea of the eye along with the formation of scar tissue. Trachoma is closely linked to
the lack of face washing, many times because of lack of safe water. 133 million people suffer from high
intensity intestinal helminthes infections, such as ascariasis, trichuriasis, and hookworm, which many
time leads to serious consequences like cognitive impairment, massive dysentery, or anemia. By
increasing access to safe water, sanitation and better hygiene, the rate of trachoma morbidity was reduced
by 27%; ascariasis morbidity was lowered by 29% and hookworm morbidity by 4%. (Water, Sanitation
Contamination of ground water by arsenic has been found across the globe. In China alone, there
are also over 26 million cases of dental fluorosis and over one million cases of skeletal fluorosis, which
can be potentially crippling, as a result of elevated amounts fluoride in their drinking water. Health
consequences of both arsenic and fluorosis can be avoided by reducing consumption, finding alternative
water sources, and removing the fluoride or arsenic. Fluorosis can also be averted by using deep seated
water, river water and building reservoirs. (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene)
It is clear that promoting safe clean water, good sanitation and hygiene is crucial in resolving
malnutrition, preventing disease and promoting healthy lives. These factors bring forth a healthy
environment crucial to living a healthy, nourished life. Public access to these factors can be improved by
creating new water sources or improving access to these sources.
Worldwide governments and organizations should promote education in order to teach people
how to prevent malnutrition by eating properly, including all of the essential nutrients. Many times, after
people are discharged from the hospital after being treated for malnutrition they return to their previous
environment and become malnourished again (Malnutrition). Overweight people are sometimes unaware
of the consequences of their excess intake and do not realize the importance of a balanced diet. It is
through their lack of knowledge and perhaps resources that these people, both underweight and
overweight, become malnourished.
Malnutrition is something that affects people of all different races, cultures, nationalities, and
ages. It affects both the rich and the poor and it affects one in three people internationally (Malnutrition).
Obesity alone comes at a high cost. The resulting disabilities and diseases can affect one’s income along
with the health care system (Obesity). By taking steps such as education and better public access to clean
water, the world is on its way to resolving malnutrition and poverty.
China, with its large population and limited amount of farmland, needs to develop better ways to
grow and distribute goods for its people. China is able to grow enough food, but it is distribution which
presents a problem. China should also resolve its issue of pollution in order to promote better agriculture
and health. Pollution may also reduce the amount of usable farmland, which is a concern in a country
where only a portion of the land is used for agriculture. By resolving the problem of pollution, many
health problems stemming from pollution would be reduced. Technology is also a factor in China which
would help resolve poverty and malnutrition, either by decreasing workload, increasing products, or
By promoting clean water, sanitation, hygiene, and technology, along with education about
malnourishment and prevention, international governments and organizations can work together to help
reduce malnourishment and poverty. It will improve both the bodies of the malnourished and their lives,
and affect people in every country around the world. By helping resolve the dilemma of malnutrition and
poverty, not only will the typical family in China’s lives be improved but people around the world’s lives
will be too.
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