China’s booming economy has not come without its growing pains. Besides the nation’s more public struggles with environmental issues and the delicate balance between a communist government and capitalist society, life for the average citizen has also been radically transformed. Just a few decades ago, China was a country of farmers and factories that provided cheap labor for the global superpowers. Now it has become a superpower itself and a leader in almost every global industry. It has developed a middle class, full of newly prosperous citizens eager to expand their horizons.
Unfortunately, their bellies are expanding as well, and it’s causing a whole host of health problems for the Chinese population. Cardiovascular problems are obvious, but they may mask a more insidious problem that creeps in during the night. Sleep apnea is on the rise in China, and it may be damaging the health and well-being of millions of Chinese citizens.
Increased prosperity in China has led to a diet that contains more meat, and increased American influence has brought an invasion of fast food chains into every major Chinese city. Greasy foods are common, including beef, which was once a rarity in Chinese cuisine. After years of famine, the number of overweight Chinese has increased by 54 percent in the last decade alone. In just two generations, China has developed and followed the same trends as other nations before it at an unprecedented rate. Because of this, Chinese doctors are now scrambling to adapt to the host of health disorders arising within the population.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder with a direct correlation to obesity. Softened muscles and fat on the neck are not necessary to cause the disorder, but they are major contributors. An individual with sleep apnea is awoken multiple times throughout the night when the soft tissue in his or her throat collapses. This incident, called an apnea, chokes the person awake. Those who suffer from sleep apnea rarely know that they are losing sleep and do not remember waking up.
During waking hours, sleep apnea manifests itself as all the symptoms of sleep deprivation. Sufferers experience headaches, fatigue, loss of concentration and are at greater risk of developing heart problems. It lowers worker productivity, boosts stress and shortens life spans. Sleep apnea can only be recognized by an outside observer who notes heavy snoring and fits of interrupted breathing before the sleeper is jolted awake. If an individual is never told of his or her problem, there’s no incentive to seek help.
Thankfully, more and more Chinese citizens are becoming aware of this disruptive disorder and finding treatment. It is diagnosed by spending several nights under physician observation, at which point an effective treatment can be prescribed. Although there is no drug proven to treat sleep apnea, it can be managed with several sleeping aids such as a CPAP. These machines regulate air flow, keeping the airways open and ensuring a constant supply of oxygen for the wearer. Sleep apnea is part of a much larger expansion in China’s health industry, including the influence of international health corporations.
As awareness of this disorder and the expertise of Chinese doctors improves, the estimated 70 million Chinese currently living with sleep apnea will be able to adapt and, hopefully, balance the excesses of new-found prosperity with a healthier lifestyle.