Diseases of affluence' spread to poorer countries

High blood pressure and obesity, traditionally associated with affluence, are no longer confined to wealthy countries, according to a new study published in the U.S. journal Circulation.

Researchers at Imperial College London and Harvard School of Public Health and worldwide collaborators studied data from 199 countries between 1980 and 2008 on the prevalence of risk factors related to heart and circulatory disease.

In 1980, a country's income was correlated with the population's average blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index (BMI).

By: 2008, there was no relationship between national income and blood pressure in men, and in women blood pressure was higher in poorer countries.

BMI was still lowest in the poorest countries, but higher in middle-income countries than the wealthiest countries. Cholesterol remained higher in higher-income Western countries.

"This study shows that non-communicable diseases are no longer 'diseases of affluence.' They've shifted from being epidemic in rich countries to become a truly international pandemic," Majid Ezzati, one of the lead authors of the study, said in a statement released Tuesday.

"If current trends continue, developing countries will be confronted with a rising tide of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Meanwhile, developed countries will continue to face an epidemic of diabetes and high cholesterol," the statement said.

The researchers suggested that the change in relationship between national income and blood pressure might be caused by improved diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure in wealthier countries, and perhaps changes in diet and lifestyle.

"Developed countries have succeeded in reducing blood pressure," said Goodarz Danaei, another lead author of the study. "We need to replicate that success in developing countries by improving primary health care services, lowering salt intake and making fresh fruit and vegetables more available."

"High cholesterol is still linked to national wealth, probably because of the relatively high cost of meat and other animal products. Lower income countries should encourage the use of unsaturated fats over saturated fats to avoid the problems that richer countries have," he said.

Danaei said heart and circulatory diseases impose a huge cost on healthcare systems in high- and middle-income countries and redirecting some of these resources to prevention might lead to savings in the long run.