What is cardiovascular disease?
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Researchers found that less than two percent of Chinese youths had what they described as “ideal cardiovascular health” — with poor diets and low levels of physical activity, in particular, being commonplace. These levels of poor health at a young age may translate to increased cardiovascular issues among the country’s adult generations in the future, one expert warned. Cardiovascular disease remains the world’s leading cause of death and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is estimated to take some 7.9 million lives each year, with four-out-of-five such losses attributed to heart attacks and strokes.
In China, cardiovascular disease is estimated to account for a whopping 45 percent of deaths in rural areas and 42 percent in urban settings.
It is estimated that around two-thirds of all deaths from cardiovascular disease affect senior individuals aged over 70.
The symptoms, however, typically begin showing up early, in one’s 40s–60s — and are often rooted in poor cardiovascular health from a young age.
To investigate the cardiovascular health of Chinese children and adolescents, public health expert Jin Jing of Guangzhou’s Sun Yat-sen University and colleagues analysed medical data on 15,583 Chinese individuals between seven and 17 years of age.
These participants were all part of a Chinese national program developed to combat obesity which operated from 2013–14.
Poor diets and low levels of exercise are common among Chinese youths, study found (Image: Getty)
Cardiovascular disease remains the world’s leading cause of death (Image: Getty)
The team assessed the cardiovascular health of each subject according to seven different metrics, starting with three so-called health factors – blood pressure, fasting plasma glucose level and total cholesterol.
They also looked at behavioural factors, analysing each youth’s body mass index, diet, levels of physical activity and whether or not they smoked or were exposed to passive smoking.
The results painted a concerning picture of the health of China’s young people.
Dr Jing said: “Overall, we found that the prevalence of meeting all seven ideal metrics or all four ideal health behaviours was alarmingly low.”
Four-out-of-five deaths from cardiovascular disease are caused by heart attacks and strokes (Image: Express.co.uk)
Heart problems are often rooted in poor cardiovascular health from a young age (Image: Express.co.uk)
In fact, the team reported, only 1.9 percent of the male and 1.6 percent of the female participants met what they defined as the “ideal cardiovascular health status”, a finding consistent with previous studies on the health of China’s adult population.
Breaking these figures down, only around three percent of the youths exhibited all the ideal cardiovascular health behaviours — like having a good diet and getting sufficient exercise — and more than half had poor levels of blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose.
The worst factors were found to be diet and physical activity levels, with 65.4 percent of male and 76.1 percent of female subjects not getting enough exercise, while 71.7 percent of males and 69.9 percent of females reported following unhealthy diets.
Heart health was typically found to be worse among the boys, the older children, those living in more developed areas and those with a family history of cardiovascular disorders.
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Good dietary and exercise habits are key to maintaining cardiovascular health, the researchers said.
Dr Jing added: “The findings among youths will be important for developing cardiovascular health promotion strategies.”
Such strategies, the team explained, might include programmes designed to monitor and promote engagement in physical activities, controls on smoking within households and endeavours to eliminate so-called food deserts in China’s less developed regions.
“Food desert” is the name given to regions where plenty of food may be available but where good quality, healthy produce is either prohibitively expensive for many, or generally lacking.
Heart healthy habits like exercise need to be promoted to Chinese children, the team said (Image: Getty)
Jing Liu — an epidemiologist from Beijing’s Capital Medical University who was not involved in the present study — seconded the description of the health situation as being “alarming”.
He said: “The report sets out new threats to child health and calls for urgent action to address these during early life.
“In terms of preventing cardiovascular disease, establishing healthy lifestyles during childhood is more effective than changing unhealthy behaviours during adulthood.”
Without effective interventions for the young, Dr Liu continued, it is uncertain whether China will be able to continue to improve the heart health of its adult population and reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in the near future.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal JACC: Asia.