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July 27, 2017

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Chasing healthy growth:Taiwan and America's shared challenge

Governments worldwide remain vigilant in their focus on infectious diseases such as dengue fever, cholera, malaria and Zika or on dangers that could potentially return, like the SARS virus that struck Hong Kong more than a dozen years ago starting in March 2003. Yet collaboration and commitment are also necessary in the face of a growing, "non-infectious" threat to the economic health and well-being of the region — which includes Taiwan — and of America.

That threat is the rise of so-called "lifestyle diseases." Diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease are now the shared challenge of both Taiwan and the United States — and of many developing and developed nations. Changing diets and increasingly urbanized and sedentary lives are driving an increase in the prevalence of such noncommunicable diseases globally, even as there is success in meeting past health challenges.

Asia's developing nations have reduced mortality rates over the last 30 years as public health experts have focused on infectious disease. Child mortality rates are down. More mothers are surviving childbirth, as are their infants. People are living longer in India and in mainland China, which representing the vast majority of Asia's population.

These and other places, however, must focus too on lifestyle-related health worries. World Health Organization data show dramatic increases in diabetes and heart disease as Asia has grown richer. Even the region's poorest nations, such as Cambodia, Laos and Bhutan, are seeing lifestyle diseases take their toll.

A recent report of the Milken Institute, where I serve as that non-partisan economic think tank's first Asia Fellow, makes clear that poor nutrition and obesity pose a severe public health challenge across large parts of Asia, taxing public health systems and posing significant risks for future generations.

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