School of Public Health Professors Visit China

April 17, 2012

1. From left to right: Front Row: Dr. He Li (Director, Department of Science and Technology); Dr. Nicholas Freudenberg ; Dr. Zhao Liyun (Vice Director, Department of Nutrition Surveillance); Dr. May May Leung

Like many other parts of the world, China is experiencing rising rates of obesity and, as a result, of Type 2 diabetes.  In 2002, according to a national study, 22.8% of Chinese adults were overweight and 7.1% were obese, an increase of 41% in overweight and 97% in obesity since 1992.  Diabetes is now a major and growing cause of health problems and health care costs.  One recent study concluded, “China is undergoing a remarkable, but undesirable, rapid transition …characterized by high rates of diet-related non-communicable diseases.”  

To compare the obesity and diabetes epidemics in the United States and China and to explore what these two countries can learn from each other, two CUNY School of Public Health faculty members, Distinguished Professor Nicholas Freudenberg and Assistant Professor of Nutrition May May Leung traveled to Shanghai and Beijing earlier this month.  “As globalization transforms health around the world,” said Freudenberg, “public health researchers have an opportunity to find new ways to conduct cross-national studies that can improve health in many settings”.  Freudenberg is founder and co-director of the Municipal Responses to Child Obesity Collaborative, an international network that has compared efforts to reduce child obesity in New York, London, Lisbon and Cape Town. 

Freudenberg visits the world’s largest McDonald’s outlet in Beijing.

Shanghai, a metropolis with a total population of 23 million, like New York City is the commercial capital of its nation and a global player in finance and business.  Also like New York, its rates of child obesity have increased rapidly in recent decades.  In Shanghai, Freudenberg and Leung visited Fudan University School of Public Health, China’s leading public health school, to explore common interests with CUNY.  Also participating in the meeting was Luo Chunyan, Director of School Health from the Shanghai Centers for Disease Control.   Several Fudan faculty members, including Deputy Dean Fu Hua, Vice Dean Qian Xu, and professors from the Departments of Preventive Medicine, Adolescent Health and Nutrition and Food Hygiene briefed Freudenberg and Leung about the school’s programs and research in urban health, nutrition, reproductive health, global health and occupational and environmental health.  

Professor Leung presented the results of her work on developing simple comic-based nutrition education programs for children in the United States, a topic of interest for Fudan and CDC researchers, who seek new ways to help Shanghai’s schools educate children and parents about prevention of obesity.  She also described her prior work studying the food and physical activity environments of migrant children living in Beijing.   “By sharing our experiences in developing interventions to reduce child obesity, “said Leung, “we hope to strengthen public health practice in both the United States and China.”  Freudenberg described the new CUNY School of Public Health and its research foci and summarized the findings of his study of the comparison of New York and London’s response to child obesity.  Participants agreed to begin work on a comparison of Shanghai and New York City’s responses to child obesity. 

In Beijing, Freudenberg and Leung met with representatives from the Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety at the China Centers for Disease Control.  Deputy Director Ma Guansheng, Director of the Department of Science and Technology,  He Li, Vice Director of the  Department of Nutrition Surveillance Zhao Liyun and Professor Liu Ailing, , described China CDC’s nutrition surveillance programs and its policies and programs  to reduce child obesity.  Freudenberg and Leung again presented findings from their obesity-related research.  Participants then discussed possible collaborative projects including joint US China surveillance studies comparing child obesity in New York and different cities in China and agreed to explore various research exchange programs. 

Older residents of Beijing exercise in a public park.

As the CUNY School of Public Health develops its research agenda on creating  healthy cities, preventing chronic diseases, promoting healthy urban aging and advancing health equity, partnership with institutions like Fudan University School of Public Health in Shanghai and China Centers for Disease Control will help the school to realize its potential.