The China Study


 DATE OF PUBLICATION: ................ 2002  

The China Study stands unique among research projects delving into the relationship of diet to disease and death. This massive international study of diet, lifestyle, and disease was primarily done in rural provinces of China.

The study was undertaken by Cornell University, Oxford University, two senior Chinese research academies in Beijing, provincial health teams, and the National Science Council of Taiwan in Taipei.

China Study I: This was the initial study. The first part of the study surveyed 6,500 people, and was done in 1973-1975. This surveyed the amount of deaths associated with four dozen different diseases, including a dozen different cancers and four different types of heart disease. In 1983-1984, a dietary and lifestyle survey was incorporated into that data, making it far more useful.

China Study II: This was the replicated study. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the survey was repeated. The causes of death were determined for 8 million people! The dietary survey was also repeated, with even more people,including those living on Taiwan. The total number surveyed in China II was 10,000 people and their families.

The studies included 367 items of information with over 140,000 correlations. About 50 of those correlations have been studied in some depth.


Two initial questions drove the analyses of all the data: First, Why did these chronic degenerative diseases occur in some parts of the country, but not in others? Second, What are the multiple relationships between diet and disease?

Two key points that made this study so outstanding: First, it was so massive, involving close to 20 million people and their families. Second, there was such a wide range of diets, dietary intakes, and a full range of disease prevalencefrom very little to very much.

Prior to this study, most studies had been done on people living in Western nations, most of whom were eating diets either rich in animal products, or almost wholly animal-based. In contrast, the China Study included both people who ate limited amounts of animal products and those who ate only plant-based diets.

Here are eight principle findings of this massive study:

1 - People tend to get the diseases of the region to which they move, even before they start intermarrying with those native to the region. Therefore, genetics definitely plays a much smaller part in disease incidence than was once considered.

Not more than 2 to 3% can be attributed to genetics. For example, when Japanese move to America, they start getting breast cancer and heart disease in rates consistent with the rest of Americans. If those diseases run in families, it tends to be due more to the diet of those families, rather than to their genes.

2 - There is a linear relationship between consumption of animal foods and disease states. As the first increases, the second also increases.

3 - In China, there was up to a one-hundredfold difference in cancer incidence between different localities. Cancer, therefore, is a local disease in China, whereas in the United States, where we tend to eat on a population basis rather than a local basis, cancer is a national affliction because it is so widespread and common. In America, because this twofold difference is scattered throughout the nation, it is more difficult to trace from cause to effect.

4 - There is a dramatic difference in diet between that of rural China vs. the typical American diet. Here are several key differences:

Americans get 36% of their calories from fat. In China it is only 14%. Americans eat 10 times more animal-flesh protein than do the Chinesea major difference. The Chinese eat three times more fiber than Americans. The Chinese diet is rich in plant-based foods; the American diet is very rich in animal-based foods. The Chinese high blood cholesterol is near the American low blood cholesterol level. In China, the average is 127. Heart disease is virtually unknown in regions where cholesterol is under 150.

There is almost no obesity. The Chinese have 25-30% less body mass than Americans, although they consume 30% more calories.

The study also compared similar physical exertion levels in the two nationalities. A plant-based diet plus moderate exercise resulted in rare obesityunless the individual was loading up on poor calorie sources such as pastas and sugar-laden sweets.

5 - The overwhelming majority of these relationships clearly show that as soon as animal food starts to appear in the dieteven small amounts,things start to go haywire and these diseases begin to appear. Cholesterol levels start to go up.

6 - The corollary is that the richer the diet is in the kinds and amounts of nutrients provided by foods of plant origin, the risk of chronic degenerative diseases is proportionally reduced in every category.

7 - Breast cancer is lower in China than in America, but one can see pockets of it in China.

8 - Breast cancer is related to the age of menarche (the age of first menstrual periods). The average age of menarche in China is 17 years (between 15 and 19 years old). In the U.S., it begins at 10 to 11 years of age. We know from many studies that as women get periods earlier, it is couple with higher risks of breast cancer. The age of menarche has dropped in America because growth rates are speeded up by making sure children get plenty of protein for healthy bodies and milk for its calcium for strong bones. But these are false ideas, and bigger is not necessarily better. Vegan children grow almost as fast. If the growth rate is slowed, there will be later menarche and less breast cancer.

9 - The higher the level of antioxidants in the blood, the less disease there will be. Antioxidants are obtainable only from plants.

10 - Not only is a plant-based diet effective in reducing heart disease, but also cancer.


In 2001, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., gave a lecture on the China Study. He is head of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University. The above data was part of that lecture. Here is additional information he provided:

There have been many similar studies in the professional literature for many years, although not often publicized like this one. When the totality of the evidence is examined in this comprehensive way, without focusing on individual nutrients . . the evidence is astounding . . and remarkable.

For example, John McDougall, M.D., arrived at the same conclusions from a different perspective when trying to help his patients. Caldwell Eselston, M.D., lifetime surgeon at the Cleveland Institute (one of the top five medical schools in America) invited 24 people with severe heart disease to participate in a study. Among the 18 who agreed were 49 coronary events in the previous eight years, including angioplasty, bypass surgery, and heart attack. The 18 people were placed on a 100% vegan diet (plus multistatin). [sp ok] After 16 years, none of the 18 had died! During that 16 years, there were no coronary events!

Dean Ornish conducted a similar study, but used yogurt and some animal protein. He had good results, but not as good as Eselstons. The Hildebrand study focused on the use of the Gerson Treatment (plant-based) for melanoma. The diet has substantial effects in controlling the advance of the cancer and mortalities of melanoma sufferers.

Dr. T. Colin Campbell researched a plant-based diets effect on athletic ability. In literature going back to Plato, Socrates, and Pythagoras, it was written that if competitors wanted to be in top condition, they should eat plant-based diets. Dr. Campbell spoke with world-class athletes who are vegan, including Dave Scott (Iron Man triathlon champion for several years), and Chris Campbell (no relation; world champion wrestler for 4 years). Other vegan world-class athletes include Martina Navritalovna and Carl Moses. [sps ok]

The Nurses Health Study, done on 80,000 nurses by Harvard University, would appear to discredit the China Studys finding of a correlation between less fat intake and lower breast cancer rate.

But closer examination of the data, however, reveals the following:

The Nurses Study started with very high fat intake levels, then reduced the intake. The range was from 49% or more fat in the diet down to 29%. In China, the range was 24% to 6%. What became obvious to the China researchers is that, in the Nurses Study, as the women reduced their fat intake form 45-50% to 25-30%, as requested, they did so via lowfat milk, yogurt, etc., so they were still getting animal protein. As a matter of fact, their animal protein intake increased as a result of their efforts to eat low-fat sources! Although there was a slight decrease in animal fat intake, there was an increased consumption of animal foods. The conclusions drawn do not reflect input from the information excluded from the study, which nonetheless impacted significantly on the study. Therefore the conclusions cannot be justified.