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Trends in heart health

Background

With China’s rapid urbanisation and changes in dietary and lifestyle choices, cardiovascular and other chronic diseases have emerged as a critical public health threat. In 2010 the prevalence of hypertension, the most common form of cardiovascular disease, reached 33.5% (affecting an estimated 330 million people). Yet awareness and control rates remained extremely low. Although the average body mass index (BMI) of the Chinese population is lower than the global average, abdominal obesity has become common in adults. Cardiovascular disease is now the country’s most common cause of mortality.

Smoking and increasingly sedentary lifestyles contribute to these trends. Despite tobacco control efforts, the prevalence of smoking in China remains at a high level, and domestic production of cigarettes continues to rise. Work- and transportation-related physical activity levels have declined sharply. Behavioural changes are thus accelerating the epidemics of obesity and chronic diseases, with negative consequences not only for public health and individual quality of life, but also for China’s economic and social well-being.

 

Achievements

The overall objective this research project was to identify and analyse causes of and trends in cardiovascular disease in China. With a focus on coronary heart disease and stroke and in consultation with Swiss Re experts, the primary investigator:

  • Conducted a systematic review of risk factors for cardiovascular disease in China and estimated the risk contribution of each factor to cardiovascular disease outcome. Disease burdens were expected to be the most effective way to communicate the urgency of China’s cardiovascular health challenges to government officials, policymakers, the media and the lay public.
  • Compared the time trend in each cardiovascular risk factor in subpopulations stratified by gender, age group, demographics and socioeconomic status and projected the future values in each subpopulation. Whilst the risk factors for cardiovascular disease in China are similar to those in other countries, their distribution is distinctive.
  • Examined the effects of having medical insurance on cardiovascular disease risk factors and disease burdens and predicted the related disease burden changes associated with potential insurance coverage.

To the extent that the findings of this research shed light on the drivers of cardiovascular disease in China, it has the potential to benefit many millions of individuals at risk as well as national and international authorities, NGOs and businesses that have an interest in improving China’s public health.

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Harvard School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from a wide range of disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas through rigorous research that can transform the lives and health of people everywhere.

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