China is a developing country (albeit a rich one) afflicted with diseases common in developed countries thanks to its rapid economic growth and change to a more western -- and unhealthy -- lifestyle.

Chronic diseases such as stroke, ischemic heart disease, COPD, and lung cancer are afflictions more common in developed nations such as the United States. A new scientific study showed these chronic diseases (or non-communicable diseases) now represent the leading causes of premature deaths in China.

The study published Wednesday in the international medical journal The Lancet revealed that stroke and ischemic heart disease have replaced lower respiratory infections and neonatal disorders as the leading causes of disease burden in China from 1990 to 2017. The other two top causes of premature deaths in China now include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and liver cancer.

China now has abnormally high levels of stroke, COPD, lung cancer, liver cancer, neck pain, and stomach cancer compared to countries with similar levels of development such as Russia. All of China’s provinces have much higher-than-expected cases of liver cancer.

Of concern is that rates of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) are way higher than would be expected based on their level of development.

“Like many countries, China has reached a tipping point over the past three decades," said Dr. Maigeng Zhou, a lead author on the study. "Going forward, the burden of chronic health problems, especially among the elderly, will far exceed infectious diseases."

Zhou is also Deputy Director of the National Center for Chronic Non-Communicable Disease Control and Prevention at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study also confirmed the observation that one's health depends on where one lives. People in urban, coastal and wealthier provinces in eastern China generally are mostly healthier than those in rural and poorer areas in the west.

Wealthy Beijing had significantly lower rates of premature death (age-adjusted) than the national average across all top 20 causes.

Nationwide, smoking is the top risk factor in 21 provinces. It’s also ranked the second- or third-leading risk in all remaining provinces.

Liver cancer is now among the top five causes of DALYs in seven provinces. Hypertensive heart disease saw variations in rank order from seventh to 56th leading cause of DALYs.

After 2000, rates of diabetes increased more rapidly due to changing lifestyles. Abetting the rise in diabetes was the increased consumption of red meat and decreased levels of physical activity.

Heart attack
A doctor speaks to a patient as a sphygmomanometer, or blood pressure meter, lies on his desk on Sept. 5, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. Adam Berry, Getty Images

National diabetes rates jumped by more than 50 percent, from 4,206 prevalent cases per 100,000 in 2000 to 6,336 prevalent cases in 2017.

The top three disabling conditions from 1990 to 2017 were musculoskeletal disorders, mental disorders, and sense organ diseases (vision loss and hearing loss).

High blood pressure accounted for 2.5 million Chinese deaths in 2017, with nearly all (9 percent) resulting from cardiovascular diseases.