Heart disease statistics show UK obesity levels among worst in Europe

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28 Nov 2017 --- A decline in deaths from heart attack and stroke in high-income countries such as the UK could be threatened by rising rates of obesity and diabetes, according to a study from the European Society of Cardiology. The study also finds that the UK is lagging behind many lower-income countries in some aspects of heart disease prevention.

The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) study involved researchers from the UK (Queen Mary University of London, University of Leeds, University of Oxford and University of East Anglia), the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal, and analyzed cardiovascular disease statistics for 56 member countries. The countries not only include European nations but also some former Soviet states, North Africa and parts of the Middle East.

Heart disease deaths not equal
Published in the European Heart Journal, the analysis shows that huge inequalities persist, with heart disease accounting for over 50 percent of all deaths in many middle-income countries, compared with less than 30 percent in the high-income countries of Western Europe.

Just under half of the middle-income countries saw an increase in disease prevalence over the last 25 years, unlike high-income countries where there have been small but consistent declines.

Hypertension was more prevalent in middle-income countries, and while smoking is in decline across member countries, over 40 percent of men in middle-income countries smoke, compared with around 30 percent in high-income countries.

The statistics reveal that while the UK performs well in some aspects of heart disease prevention, it is doing comparatively badly in terms of others. The UK has:

  • The highest prevalence of adult obesity in males (26.9 percent of the population, compared to an average of 21.4 percent amongst 47 countries), and the second highest prevalence of obesity in females (29.2 percent of the population, compared to an average of 22.9 percent).
  • One of the highest levels of mean total blood cholesterol concentration, ranking joint third for both males and females out of 47 countries.
  • The joint fifth (with Ireland) highest prevalence of raised blood cholesterol (≥6.2mmol/L) at 21.7 per cent of population, compared to an average of 16.3 percent amongst 47 countries.
  • The joint fourth highest body mass index (BMI) for males (27.5 kg/m2 compared to an average of 26.8 kg/m2 amongst 47 countries) and seventh highest BMI for females (27.1 kg/m2 compared to an average of 25.8 kg/m2).
  • The tenth highest prevalence of heavy episodic drinking in the past 30 days, affecting 27.1 per cent of the population, compared to an average 19.1 per cent amongst 47 countries.
  • The third highest prevalence of insufficiently active adults, at 40 per cent of the population, compared to an average of 26.5 per cent amongst 36 countries.

However, the UK has the lowest prevalence of raised blood pressure at 15.2 percent of the population, compared to an average of 24.2 percent among 47 countries, and prevalence of smoking is among the lowest in Europe. This contributes to the UK’s position in the lower half of the cardiovascular mortality rankings for ESC member countries.

“Heart disease still remains the leading cause of death for middle-income countries, while declines in high-income countries mean that cancer deaths have now become more common there,” says lead author Dr. Adam Timmis from Barts Heart Centre, Queen Mary University of London. “But this downward trend for high-income countries is being threatened by the emerging obesity epidemic that is seeing rates of diabetes increase almost everywhere.”

“Interestingly, the figures show that heart disease is as much of a problem for women as for men, as we see that more are dying than before,” Dr. Timmis adds. “This is especially the case for younger women, and these deaths are largely preventable through lifestyle changes.”

The authors warn the limitations that apply to the quality, precision and availability of the data demand cautious interpretation.

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