Chinese public officials remain far less healthy than the general population years into a campaign against the banquets-and-booze lifestyles with which they were long associated.
A survey of the medical records of about 300,000 of China’s 10m civil servants found 57 per cent had excessive levels of blood lipids such as cholesterol and more than half were overweight or obese. The comparative figures for the general population were 41 per cent and 25 per cent.
Spinal problems were the most common complaint in the study published this week by iKang, a medical company, affecting about 60 per cent of officials surveyed across five regions. The study pointed to too much desk time, poor diet and lack of exercise as culprits.
Men were less healthy and were more likely to be overweight and have indications of diabetes and gout. A third of male civil servants rated “abnormally” on at least five health measures, compared with about a fifth for women.
Strikingly, more than half of male officials had fatty liver disease, an ailment associated with obesity and excessive alcohol consumption, compared with estimates of about 20 per cent for men in the general population.
The iKang survey follows a 2012 study of 15,000 civil servants funded by the ministry of education, which found that 40 per cent rarely exercised while 20 per cent regularly drank to excess. “For civil servants, risks of social drinking or alcoholism are enormous,” the authors said.
Xi Jinping, China’s president, rose to the leadership of the Communist party the same year and promoted an anti-corruption campaign and austerity drive that included a limit on official banquets to “four dishes and one soup”.
Sales of high-end alcohol nosedived but have since recovered, while the number of new corruption prosecutions has slowed. At a meeting of China’s rubber-stamp legislature this week, officials denied suggestions that the anti-corruption campaign had lost steam.
Civil servants in China have traditionally enjoyed free access to healthcare, while private sector workers pay out of pocket for most treatments. Those perks are one of the reasons annual civil service examinations are intensely competitive.
But in further bad news for Chinese officials already struggling with high blood pressure, diabetes and gout, Beijing is pushing reforms that would require government employees to pay a bigger portion of their salaries into medical insurance schemes.