Big Data, Machine Learning, and Health Knowledge Discovery in the Elderly in China

Big Data, Machine Learning, and Health Knowledge Discovery in the Elderly in China

Bin Ding, Dongxiao Gu, Zheng Jiang
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1966-0.ch002
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According to the national strategic plan for healthy aging and the construction of the pension system in China, it is expected that by 2020 the population of elderly aged 60 and above will reach 255 million, accounting for about 17.8% of the total population. Currently, population aging is a serious social problem in China, and thus, health status of the elderly becomes increasingly critical. The present research uses machine learning to identify factors influencing elderly's health status and life satisfaction with data from the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey. The results show that some common factors are important for both self-rated health status and life satisfaction for elderly, namely positive and optimistic attitudes, a healthy diet, and economic status. Health status and life satisfaction also have their unique predicting factors, such as mobility ability for health status and living conditions for life satisfaction. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.
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According to the “Deep research and investment strategy report of 2017-2022 China’s pension industry” released by Zhiyan (2017), the population of people aged 60 and above amounted to 240 million in 2017, accounting for 17.3% of the total population in China. The population of people aged 65 and above reached 158.31 million, accounting for 11.4% of the total population in China. By 2020, the population of people aged 60 and above will reach 255 million; the elderly who live alone or in “empty nests” will be about 118 million; dependency ratio of elderly will rise to about 28% (Lu & Wang, 2017). Aging issue in China is becoming more serious and visible, manifested in disability, high age, and empty nests in the old populaiton. The “13th Five-Year Plan” of the State Council has established strategic plans for aging and pension system, aiming at improving the social security system and the pension system, so that the living, spiritual and social participation aspects of elderly will be guaranteed. Against this backdrop, increasing research attention has been devoted to health issue of the old population.

China is rapidly entering a population aging society, and population aging process in China is faster than other low-income and middle-income countries. With the sharp increase of old population, great pressure and challenges have been brought on current social security and pension system. A pressing issue for now is to gain a scientific understanding of the health status of the elderly under current economic conditions in China. Albeit the medical advances and increment of people’s living condition make people’s average lifespan increased dramatically, with the increase of age, the physiological function of elderly would inevitably decline to some extent. They may have cognitive and physiological dysfunction, chronic diseases, decreased mental states, and so forth, and hence they would rely heavily on social welfare such as medical care, healthcare system, community service, and nursing services. Therefore, to gain a deeper understanding of the key factors affecting the health status of the elderly is imperative. This research aims to address this research inquiry.

Early research predominantly studies elderly health from a medical and biological perspective (Perez, Bauerl, & Collado, 2014; Goldman et al., 2005; De Martinis, Sirufo, & Ginaldi, 2017). As research progresses, scholars investigate factors affecting elderly’s health from the perspectives of sociology and economics. Research shows that people's living environment and their personal conditions has profound impact on aging, and these factors start to influence the aging process from a very early stage and last for a prolong time (WHO, 2015). For example, health status of the elderly could be affected by social environment in which people live including family, neighborhood and community environment (e.g., Kang, Kim, & lee, 2008). Meanwhile, sufficient supporting service, such as community services and healthcare system, plays an important role in affecting elderly’s health and improving their life quality (e.g., Hosseini & Bahraminejad, 2014). Research further reveals that personal factors including socioeconomic status, physical activities, eating habits, and psychological conditions can help reduce chronic disease risk and thus improve physical and mental health of elderly (Bae et al., 2010; Kwon & Kim, 2016; Yu, Kang, & Kim, 2015).

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