Sunday, 30 November 2014
Survivors of Mao's 1959 Great Famine now in poor health
The Great Famine of 1959-61 triggered by Mao Zedong's disastrous agricultural policies is estimated to have caused 16-30 million deaths. But its effects are still being felt among the survivors - especially the children who were born around that time and who are now reaching retirement age.
In a major national survey two Chinese researchers Fan Wen and Qian Yue have found that the "59-61" generation have significantly worse physical and self rated health than a similar cohort of unaffected people. The poor health is not unexpected given the malnutrition experienced by the children growing up in that era. Previous studies have shown major effects on growth retardation and development. Interestingly, the researchers found that those currently in the worst health tended to be people from families who had Communist Party connections. This was presumably a 'weak survivor' effect because people with Party connection had better access to food during the famine, whereas families without Party connections would simply have starved, killing off the weaker children. Writing in Social Science Research, the researchers say there are millions of Chinese in their fifties and sixties who in poor health because of the early life effects of the famine.
They conclude: "Having experienced one of the largest famines in human history, these individuals are now moving through their retirement years. Our study suggests the necessity of paying special attention to this cohort, with programs designed specifically to meet their special needs."