Air & Food Issues: Zhende or Jiade? Readers Respond…

This is part 3 of my analysis of the results from my recent online survey of Beijing health, which I called the Health Snapshot Beijing 2010. It’s the first of what I hope will be an annual survey to assess Beijing’s healthcare and expat’s perceptions of their health. Part one reviewed overall perceptions, while part 2 focused on expat and local clinic experiences. Today’s post reviews our 75 responders’ answers to questions regarding what I feel are the top public health issues in Beijing: air pollution and food safety. Let’s jump in…

Question 8: Air pollution is a serious issue for me: agree or not?

This response, by far, was the strongest of all survey questions: an overwhelming 82% were concerned about air pollution, and a strong majority (57%) strongly agreed. Only 11% felt this was a minor issue. And very few people (7%) are neutral about this issue. It’s hard not to have a strong position on this problem.

I’m not surprised by this answer at all, for it certainly is the most obvious problem visually here in China. It’s impossible to ignore those days when you only see a thick whitish blanket of haze, and you smell that acrid air every time you venture boldly into that haze. And I certainly agree that pollution is harmful to health, both short-term and long-term. But…

… but my main concern with this question is, does this answer accurately reflect the true feelings of the community? Or is this simply a “preaching to the choir” phenomenon? Air pollution is by far the #1 most popular topic of my blog, so perhaps my blog attracts those readers who are more concerned, and others less concerned don’t read the blog and therefore didn’t fill out this survey. So are the results artificially skewed? I suppose only a larger survey would resolve that, but certainly from my four years of anecdotal conversations with expats, air pollution indeed is the top issue.

Ah, but this raises another great question: should air pollution be the #1 concern? I think this is a perfectly fair question: I honestly think that the answer is no, it shouldn’t be our #1 concern; there are more immediate issues for people, things that impact your health more directly than air pollution. People should never forget that the #1 killer all over the world is still heart disease, mostly from lifestyle issues. So here in China, just as back at home, it’s far more important that you:

  • don’t smoke
  • exercise
  • eat healthy
  • stay at a healthy weight

In other words, you can fill your rooms with imported air filters and walk around in pollution masks as much as you want, but if you’re smoking or not exercising anymore or letting yourself go a bit during your years here, then you need to realign your priorities. BUT (again) …

…a strong exception would be those worst pollution days, when the Beijingair index is spectacularly and dangerously high at 300, 400 or 500+. Those days indeed should be considered as public health emergencies, and anyone with medical conditions of their heart and lungs should really try to avoid exposure to that. The rates of heart attacks, chest pains and other maladies skyrocket alongside those pollution spikes.

Question 9: Food safety is a serious problem: agree or not?

This question also elicited some strong reaction, although not as fierce as air pollution. Still, it was fairly overwhelming: 77% think food safety is a serious issue, and almost half (40%) strongly agreed. Only 12% disagreed. Again, this was another question which was hard to be neutral (12%).

I was actually surprised that such a strong percentage agreed with this. I personally feel it’s a big deal and I do write many posts about it, but usually those posts aren’t as popular as pollution posts. Still, I personally feel it’s a good thing that the survey responders do take this issue seriously, as I do feel it’s important for Beijingers to closely monitor what you eat and where you eat it.

So how do expats take control of their foods? There are many ways, but one big way (in theory) is to buy organic. How many do this? I’m glad you asked! Read on…

Question 10: Buying organics is very important: agree or not?

This answer was very surprisingly muted. The biggest answer, by far, was “neutral” (40%). Only 39% agreed that buying organic was important, and 21% felt it wasn’t important. Feelings were very mixed overall, as only 15% strongly agreed.

I think this was the most surprisingly mixed answer of all questions, as I certainly expected a more enthusiastic endorsement of organic. This brings up the very good question: why aren’t people more enthusiastic? Also, if people in question 9 felt food safety was so important, then if they’re not buying organics, then what steps are they taking?

My theory is that perhaps those same concerned expats are less enthusiastic about organics mostly because they don’t really trust that the organics truly are organic. I’m sure that the extra cost is also a factor, as is availability. What do you think?

Question 11: Organic Food: Where Do You Buy (if at all)?

This answer had a big mixture, with the top choice (27%) choosing the big supermarkets; next were buying at small markets; Lohao City; and directly from the farms (9%).

But there’s also a negative edge to this question, as 30% of people don’t buy organic at all, which means a fair percentage of concerned food safety people (from question 11) are still not choosing to buy organics. Again, why not? and what are they doing instead? Readers can leave their own answers in the comments section below.

Coming up next week: “What do you feel are your major health issues in Beijing?” Reader responses, verbatim…

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