Health is no laughing matter

By Hannah Leung Source:Global Times Published: 2012-4-15 19:35:03

Staying healthy is hard. When I took a brief jog outside a few weeks ago, admittedly more of an unforeseen sprint to get somewhere on time, I ended my five-minute run gasping for clean air.

I wasn't sure if I was severely out of shape or if I was developing asthma from exposure to pollution everyday. I felt I was out of shape, but was I really this out of shape?

While the overall unhealthiness of Beijing serves as lighthearted banter, the reality is no laughing matter. Metro Beijing reported last week that 104 Beijingers are diagnosed with cancer every day. Cancer is still the leading cause of death in China, while in developed countries the rate is on the decline.

Environmental factors contribute to the majority of cancers. Give or take; only 5 percent actually involve genetics. Such factors include pollution, work and personal stress, and an unhealthy diet.

Any large metropolitan area could be seen as a health hazard, but living in Beijing, surrounded by smoke, environmental pollutants, extreme cultural differences, work and personal pressure, is bad for your health.

A common urban adage says that being outside on a polluted day in Beijing is equivalent to smoking a packet of cigarettes. My friends and I often joke about how Beijing is taking years off of our lives, but hopefully the twilight years, the parts we would want to lose anyway.

Quips about pollution are often juxtaposed with wishful reminiscing about the air quality back "home," and complaints about the odd spate of food poisonings are laughed off with stories of messy bathroom mishaps.

The difference though, is that my foreign friends and I choose to live here. It's likely that our time here is transient and thus we can weigh it out by making comparisons.

The real heartache for me is thinking about the children growing up in Beijing for whom this environment is the norm. They have to endure the perpetually "foggy" days, lingering second hand smoke and a taxing academic workload.

I live near an elementary school in Beijing, and enjoy the atmosphere it lends to an otherwise sterile location. But it confounds me to see kids outside for physical education no matter how crazy bad the Air Quality Index (AQI) is. 

Pedestrians pass the schoolyard, indiscriminately disposing of cigarette butts near the school fence. It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to see that regardless of any personal effort, these kids are already at a disadvantage health wise.

While certain environmental factors are beyond control, and the cost of pre-screenings and basic medical care prevents early detection, there are changes that could be made. Beijing residents should develop a sense of civic responsibility and be mindful of others, beyond the use of perfunctory gestures. Maybe, behind the sanctioned statistics, that's the real lesson to be learned.

Posted in: Twocents-Opinion

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