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China and India: Neighboring Countries but Poles Apart in Their Older Populations’ Health

Tue May 08 2012
Wan He
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China and India sit next to each other on the Asian continent, sharing a thousand-mile long border. The Silk Road connected these two countries more than 2,000 years ago, allowing exchanges not only in trade but in religion and culture as well.

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However, despite their geographical proximity, the health status of their older populations appear to be poles apart. Results from the Study on Global Ageing and Adult Health (SAGE) consistently placed China and India at opposite ends of the spectrum among the six countries included – China, Ghana, India, Mexico, Russia and South Africa.

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Here are some examples: fewer than 4 percent of older Chinese women reported being current tobacco users, while 32 percent of Indian women did. About 74 percent of the oldest Chinese (70 and older) fell in the category of the least disability and best functioning, compared with only 26 percent of the oldest Indians. And a mere 1 percent of the older Chinese reported being diagnosed with depression compared with 14 percent of older Indians.

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So, the question becomes: Why are older Chinese more likely to report being healthy and happy but Indians  less so? These findings may very well be true differences in health levels between the two populations, but there could also be many other factors that come into play. Could the results also be a reflection of their cultural differences; that is, differences in how the two populations respond to the same questions? Do the responses and outcomes reflect differences in health care systems and health care policies? These and many other intriguing questions can be further investigated with more in-depth analysis, using cross-sectional and longitudinal data from future waves of SAGE.

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If you are interested in learning more about the differences in health and health care between China and India or among other SAGE countries, please see the Census Bureau’s newly released report Shades of Gray: A Cross-Country Study of Health and Well-Being of the Older Populations in SAGE Countries, 2007-2010, commissioned by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health.

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