For many, modern China evokes images of smog. A study published in the Lancet last week, shows that despite the negative health impacts of this pollution, life expectancy in China has shot up hugely since 1990. So much so that some provinces are close to global life expectancy leaders Switzerland and Japan.
Nationally, China’s average life expectancy leapt from 68 years in 1990, to just over 76 years in 2013. A remarkable achievement. This average however, hides large regional differences. Some Chinese provinces now rival much of the developed world on longevity.
The Chinese province with the worst life expectancy remains Tibet. With average lifespans there shifting from just over 56 in 1990 to nearly 71 years in 2013, Tibet has also improved the most.
China’s leader, and the province that now boasts life expectancy almost as high as Switzerland’s, is Shanghai. An average female resident of Shanghai could expect to live until 85.2 in 2013, and an average man 80.5 years. This is almost on par with Switzerland where life expectancy in 2014 was 85.2 for women, and 81 years for men.
Pollution levels in the two nations are very different however. Recent World Bank data shows that in China the mean annual exposure to PM2.5 particulates is 73 μg/m3. In Switzerland it is 14 – PM2.5 particulate matter refers to particles with a diameter of 2.5 micron metres, a width equivalent to one hundredth of a human hair. The same report however, shows that 96% of Swiss residents are exposed to air pollution levels above the WHO guideline limits of an annual mean exposure to PM2.5 particulate matter of 10 μg/m3 and a 20 μg/m3 annual limit for PM10 particulate matter.
According to an RTS article in March 2014, levels of PM10 rose to nearly 80 μg/m3 in Geneva, with concentrations going as high as 300 μg/m3 in some towns. And while Swiss federal rules fix a maximum PM10 particulate concentration of 50 µg/m³, no measures are taken until levels reach 100 μg/m3, reported RTS.
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