Cancer and stroke are the leading causes of death in Chinese people, a new study by the Ministry of Health has found.
The study, which is based on two years of research and covers about 210 million residents of 160 cities and counties, placed respiratory diseases at number third while heart diseases at number four.
The report of the third national study (2006-08) on causes of death also listed injuries and poisoning as the fifth highest cause of deaths in the country.
"The number of Chinese who died from the above five reasons account for 85 percent of the total deaths," China Daily quoted MOH spokesman Deng Haihua, as saying in a press conference in Beijing.
The study also showed that the death rate of the country's rural and urban residents, particularly of those who died from chronic diseases, was also higher than world average levels.
Deng said that the differences were reflective of the yawning gap between the country's rural and urban areas in terms of health awareness and living standards.
He said that disparities in economic development between rural and urban regions, which lead to an imbalance in medical care and health awareness, can influence the death rate in different areas.
The report showed that the number of deaths in the countryside was 19 percent higher than in urban areas.
Within urban areas, the death rate in less developed western cities was 25 percent higher than in the more developed east.
"The issues of urbanization and an aging society both influence the lifestyle and health habits of citizens," said Rao Keqin, the director of the center for health statistics and information under the MOH.
"With urbanization and economic development, many urbanites have shown unprecedented zeal in pursuing healthy lifestyles," Keqin added.
Keqin said that such residents have been more concerned in recent years about healthy eating habits, the importance of exercise and the quality of living.
"Concern for customers' diet and health makes my business different," said a businessman surnamed Zheng, who runs a restaurant serving food cooked with medicinal herbs.
"I believe this is the best advertisement for a restaurant, particularly in big cities," Zheng said.
On contrary, some eating habits in the rural areas continue to be unhealthy.
MOH released a Chinese diet guide in January, which was an update of a decade-old version, to promote health awareness.
Kong Lingzhi, deputy director of the MOH's disease prevention and control bureau, said it was a timely guide to encourage people to eat healthy to prevent against the worrying trend of chronic diseases.
Ministry statistics showed that presently, the death rate from cancer has increased by 83.1 percent over the mid-1970s and by 22.5 percent over the early 1990s.
Kong said that in urban areas, deaths from lung, intestine, pancreas and breast cancer are higher, while in rural areas, deaths from liver, stomach, gullet and cervical cancer are higher.
Cancers associated with living environment and lifestyles -lung, liver, colorectal, breast and bladder cancer - are also said to be increasing.
The MOH report showed that among these, lung and breast cancer registered the highest increase of 465 percent and 96 percent in the past 30 years, respectively.
Qi Xiaoqiu, the director of the disease control bureau under the MOH, said that lung cancer has also replaced liver cancer to become the top killer among malignant tumours in the country.
Referring to the latest report, Qi said the study also included 13 regions reported by media for their high death rates.
"Our statistics show only four of them being above the average death rate in China, seven of them at the same level of the national average rate, and the rest of the two lower than the national average rate," Qi said.