The Beijing government has put forward a proposal to fortify the country's flour supply with iron in a bid to combat anaemia, a deficiency of iron in the blood.
The plan is to increase the level of iron micronutrients in flour throughout China in 2005, reports the Xinhua news agency.
Recent research shows that many Chinese children are at risk from anaemia, leading to the suggestion that this could be combated by fortifying the flour which was presented by two deputies in the Beijing Municipal People's Congress, Qiu Cijun and Meng Zhiyuan.
Qiu said that the micronutrients currently found in Chinese flour are largely insufficient when it comes to meeting the nutritional needs of the population. This has led to a serious deterioration in the health of many Chinese children, and medical costs related to insufficient micronutrient intake are estimated at around 250 billion yuan (€34.7bn) per year.
Among the diseases which can be caused by poor diet are high blood pressure, diabetes, various cancers and cardiovascular diseases.
Qiu said that other countries had been fortifying flour, cooking oil and sugar with a range of micronutrients such as vitamins, iron, calcium, zinc and folic acid.
He cited the example of Japan, which began fortifying some of its basic foodstuffs in the late 1940s, at the same time as promoting a healthy lifestyle. This, Qiu said, meant that Japanese men under 45 are now taller on average than their Chinese counterparts.
He added that the percentage of Thai people suffering from malnutrition had dropped from 40 per cent to the current 10 per cent after fortifying food with micronutrients, while Brazil recently decided to add a minimum of 4.3mg of iron to wheat and corn flour in a bid to combat iron deficiency.
China has already followed other countries in iodising salt in a bid to fight iodine deficiency, Qiu said.
The expected cost of the programme will not be high, with experts suggesting that 150 kilograms of iron-fortified flour, the amount consumed by an ordinary Chinese person each year, will cost only 5.7 yuan more than ordinary flour.