Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Twenty-year trends in the prevalence of disability in China

Xiaoying Zheng, Gong Chen, Xinming Song, Jufen Liu, Lijing Yan, Wei Du, Lihua Pang, Lei Zhang, Jilei Wu, Bingzi Zhang & Jun Zhang


To evaluate changes in the age-adjusted prevalence of disability in transitional China from 1987 to 2006.


Data from nationally representative surveys conducted in 1987 and 2006 were used to calculate age-adjusted disability prevalence rates by applying appropriate sample weights and directly adjusting to the age distribution of the 1990 Chinese population. Trends were assessed in terms of average annual percentage change.


The estimated number of disabled people in China in 1987 and 2006 was 52.7 and 84.6 million, respectively, corresponding to a weighted prevalence of 4.9% and 6.5%. The age-adjusted prevalence of disability decreased by an average of 0.5% per year (average annual percentage change, AAPC: −0.5%; 95% confidence interval, CI: −0.7 to −0.4) during 1987–2006. However, it increased by an average of 0.3% (AAPC: 0.3%; 95% CI: 0.1 to 0.5) per year in males and by an average of 1.0% (AAPC: 1.0%; 95% CI: 0.8 to 1.2) per year among rural residents, whereas among females it showed an average annual decrease of 1.5% (AAPC: −1.5%; 95% CI: −1.7 to −1.3) and among urban residents, an average annual decrease of 3.9% (AAPC: −3.9%; 95% CI: −4.3 to −3.5). Despite significant declining trends for hearing and speech, intellectual and visual disabilities, the annual age-adjusted prevalence of physical and mental disabilities increased by an average of 11.2% (AAPC: 11.2%; 95% CI: 10.5 to 11.9) and 13.3% (AAPC: 13.3%; 95% CI: 10.7 to 16.2), respectively.


In China, the age-adjusted prevalence of disability has declined since 1987, with inconsistencies dependent on the type of disability. These findings call for continuing and specific efforts to prevent disabilities in China.