Why Helping the Poor Is Not Enough
There's a surprising new global leader in diabetes: China. And the problem is larger than previously thought. National prevalence more than tripled in a decade; as of 2010, 1 in 10 Chinese adults had diabetes, with 16 percent more pre-diabetic. This nearly equals the rate of disease in the United States and exceeds that of other Western nations. One pharmaceutical executive calls China "the world's capital for diabetes." Most of these cases are Type 2 diabetes, developed in adulthood and linked to poor eating habits, obesity, and sedentary lifestyle. This is a natural result of more Chinese adopting an excessive and sedentary—some might say Western—diet and lifestyle.
In a sense, this bad news contains a seed of good news: a startling growth in prosperity in our lifetime, not only in China but around the world. Remember when your mother told you to eat your peas because the hungry children in China would be grateful to have such a meal? Well, far fewer of them are going without a meal. The downside—and a terrible irony—is that a place which once served to embody poverty now is a land of excess (and its attendant sicknesses) rivaling our own.
At this point in history, if we're honest with ourselves as we watch newly affluent nations like China choose lifestyles of excess, we see that over-consumption and self-indulgence are not Western problems—they are human problems. We don't seem to know how to steward abundance. With access to the healthiest foods on the planet, we choose McDonald's. When we have leisure time to keep our minds and bodies active, we lie around and watch TV. When our income rises and we have the resources to share with others, our tastes become more expensive—so we spend more to keep ourselves comfortable.
If comfort is our chief purpose, we should be the happiest people in history. Yet we are far from it. According to the World Health Organization, depression was the third-largest cause of the global disease burden in 2004—and it's expected to be number one in 2030. Since the late 1960s, worldwide suicide rates have increased by 60 percent. And at least one study found that worldwide—among prosperous nations, developing countries, and those in transition—there is no long-term relationship between happiness and economic growth.
Wealth and education can change the world, but they can't save it. Our appetite for self-destruction is predictable. Our corruption is unavoidable. As material needs are met and economic growth gives us physical security, our sin problem is even more apparent in relief. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.
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