Cardiovascular disease has become the leading cause of death in China

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shanghai-skyline China

In a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, researchers find that China has a 20-year rise in cardiovascular disease (CVD) due to the increase in high blood pressure.

In addition, increasing body mass index (BMI), decreasing physical activity, a high prevalence of smoking, and unhealthy diet have also contributed to the growing burden of cardiovascular disease in China.

This is the first large study to analyze a wide range of dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors that may be impacting cardiovascular disease burden in China.

The researchers suggested that major changes in Chinese society, including a dramatic shift from a traditional to a more “Western” diet and lifestyle and rapid urbanization and industrialization, may have contributed to the jump in cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke.

These changes have been accompanied by marked increases in high cholesterol, obesity, and type 2 diabetes among the Chinese population.

The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The researchers analyzed data collected over a 20-year period, from 1991-2011, from 26,000 people living in nine Chinese provinces, as part of the China Health and Nutrition Survey.

They looked at 17 dietary and lifestyle risk factors that have been previously linked with heart attack and stroke, including high systolic blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood glucose, high BMI, low physical activity, smoking, and 11 dietary factors.

They also analyzed data of cardiovascular disease-related disease and death incidence from the China Health Statistical Yearbook and the National Population Census.

Researchers found that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood glucose accounted for most of the cardiovascular disease burden in China in 2011.

Those three risk factors were associated, respectively, with 3.1, 1.4, and 0.9 million new cases of heart attack or stroke. Of 6.8 million Chinese over age 35 who died in 2011, about 3 million of the deaths (44%) were related to cardiovascular diseases.

The researchers estimated that high blood pressure alone was responsible for roughly 40% of heart attacks or stroke.

High blood pressure has jumped dramatically in China over the past three decades, the researchers noted: In 1979, its prevalence in the population was 7.7%; by 2010 it was 33.5%–comparable to that among U.S. adults.

Researchers suggest that the continued rise in high blood pressure, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, increasing obesity, and worsening dietary trends will add millions of new cases of heart attacks and stroke over the next two decades.

Moreover, the increases in high blood pressure and the increases in BMI over time are more pronounced among younger people and rural residents.

Future research will continue to monitor the problem, which has serious social and economic consequences. Prevention of chronic diseases through promoting healthy diet and lifestyle should be elevated to a national public policy priority.

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Citation: Li Y, et al. (2016). Time Trend of Lifestyle Factors on Cardiovascular Disease Burden in China. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, published online. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2016.06.011.
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