08/31/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Everything in Moderation

No topic stirs nationalist fervor like beer.

The Irish have Guinness. Australia has Foster's. Right here in Canada, Molson struck gold when Joe Canadian proclaimed that not only is the beaver a noble creature, it's pronounced "zed;" not "zee" - "zed."

We enjoy the "I Am Canadian" rant as much as the next Canuck. But what strikes us is its selling power. Not just here but everywhere. It seems no matter where you go populations show their loyalty by saluting with a long-necked bottle.

That nationalistic pride hasn't been lost on advertisers in China. There, you'll find advertisements displaying a local beer with a symbol of Chinese culture.

In a country that hasn't always been a nation of beer drinkers, the advertising has worked. In the last thirty years, the population went from drinking virtually no beer to more than 20 million tons each year.

Our habits are being adopted in more than just advertising. But maybe it's not all for the better.

China developed its taste for beer at the same time as its economic and political reforms. These reforms have helped make the nation of over 1.3 billion people an international power. China still has its problems with poverty in some regions. But its consumer society with Western tastes and the disposable income to satisfy them has grown considerably.

Many are toasting their success with a cold glass of beer.

"Good taste, fresh style," says Hu Bin, a Chinese male model, singer and actor in one advertisement for Landmark Beer. "Life is more easy!"

Certainly, the speed of China's economic success is remarkable. Unfortunately, as the country's economic indicators start to match those of the Western World, so do the social indicators. Many of them don't make life easier.

According to a recent report by The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, about one in 25 deaths worldwide can be linked to diseases or injuries related to alcohol consumption.

The study puts the global average at seven drinks per week. Canadians drink nine and Europe higher still. The developing world largely abstains for religious reasons and due to cost. That puts the bulk of alcohol-related deaths in the Western World.

So much for toasting to good health.

Sadly, while China is picking up on our advertising trends, it's also following our lead when it comes to health.

In the short-term China has seen an increase in drunk driving accidents. Ganbei culture, which encourages business leaders to toast each other with liquor, has led to the deaths of some prominent officials.

In the long-run, many experts predict higher rates of cancer. A study by The Journal of the National Cancer Institute raised alarm that China's low breast cancer rate could increase in coming years due to weight gain and alcohol intake among the female population. The same is expected with liver disorders, heart disease and other cancers associated with drinking.

Of course, the growth in China's alcohol industry isn't all bad. The availability of cheaper, licensed liquor helps curb people from making homebrews. These beers and liquors can be highly toxic without proper safety measures making them much more dangerous than what's sold in stores.

But, as China's economy continues on its upward trajectory, it will be hard to sustain with the burdens of an increasingly unhealthy population.

China's population accounts for nearly 20 per cent of the world. As rates of cancer, disease and injury associated with alcohol increase, this places a major burden on families, the health care system, workplace productivity and the country as a whole.

Luckily, this forecast is entirely preventable.

We understand toasting your country with a frosty beverage. But, one salute will probably be sufficient in getting the point across.