Health supplements and medication main expenses for Chinese elderly, but officials warn against fake products

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

12.4% of Chinese elderly surveyed say they will shop online. © Getty Images
12.4% of Chinese elderly surveyed say they will shop online. © Getty Images
A new report has revealed that health supplements and medication are the top two expenses for the elderly in China.

The findings were based on a “Survey report on the living conditions of China’s urban and rural older persons 2018”, a blue book launched by the China Ageing Research Centre.

The survey took place in 2015, with participation from a total of 222,700 Mainland Chinese elderly aged 60 and above.

As of last year, the health supplement market in China has achieved RMB 237.6 billion, as compared to 44.2 billion in 2002, the second biggest supplement market after the US. Euromonitor forecasts that China’s health supplement market will be over 300 billion in 2021.

NutraIngredients-Asia earlier reported that heart, joint and cognitive health​ are the main health concerns for the Asian elderly consumers.

In terms of medical spending, elderly living in cities spends an average of 2341 RMB, which is 11.6% of their overall expenses, whereas elderly living in rural places spends an average of 1395 RMB, a 15.7% of their overall expenses.

The willingness to spend on supplements could be attributed to the spending ability and increased health awareness. 

The number of elderly who perceive themselves as “very well to do”, “slightly well to do” ​and “well to do”​ increased by 0.2%, 3.5% and 1.8% respectively between years 2010 to 2015. The percentage of elderly who see themselves as having little to low buying ability have dropped.

On the other hand, online shopping is not only popular with the youngsters, but also increasingly attractive to the Chinese elderly.

5% said they use the internet regularly, while 12.4% said they will shop online. In general, majority of them – 85% use the internet to read news.

Death from wrong diets

Wrong dietary habits is one of the main causes of death for the Chinese elderly. More than half died from high blood pressure or malnutrition, the blue paper revealed.

Other cause of death include high glycaemic level, cigarette smoking, air pollution and the lack of physical exercise; half of the Chinese elderly do not have habit of exercising regularly.

Besides prevalence of chronic disease, nearly 7 in 10 and half of the elderly suffer from poor hearing and dental health problems.

Only 30% of the elderly are found to be in good health condition. In particular, married males living in the cities fared better than others.

Public education against health scams

Amidst higher demand for health supplements, the blue book cautioned that fake products and even health scams have seeped into the elderly supplement market, prompting the need for tighter market regulation and public education.

To combat fake products, authorities from Guangdong have started a public campaign this month, aimed at equipping elderly consumers with information on fake product advertising and common consumer scams. The authorities hope to conduct a total of 63 community talks within the next six months.

Most of the talks will be held at places with high elderly population, such as neighbourhoods, elderly recreation centres, elderly learning institutions and nursing homes.

Early this month, over A$6.3m worth of counterfeit​ food items and supplements were seized by the Chinese authorities. Amongst them large quantities of Blackmores and Swisse supplements.

Some of the counterfeit were said to have generated around 1000% in profits, despite being purportedly sold as 50% cheaper than the real product.

To crackdown on unscrupulous product claims​, China's Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) have also instructed officials to increase investigations on illegal advertisement on food, drug and wellness products.

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