When I was growing up in an Asian country in the Pacific, the daily fare was rice, fresh fish, vegetables, and fruit. That was before the fast food invasion. Several decades, the daily diet has drastically changed – burgers, pizza, fries galore.
This is happening all over as globalization proceeds in a very fast pace. With lifestyle changes come changes in diet and physical exercise with consequences on our health. Below are some examples of how lifestyle changes are adversely affecting the cardiovascular health of once primarily healthy populations.
Traditionally, Alaskan Eskimos have very robust cardiovascular health. They ate lots of fish rich with omega 3 fatty acids and stayed active even in cold temperatures. All that is changing now as the new generations of Eskimos embrace modern lifestyles and pick up bad habits which include smoking, eating fast food rich in saturated and trans fats and doing less physical exercise in favour of television or the internet.
An article published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association reports that Alaskan Eskimos have significantly higher rates of artery plaques compared to the general population.
…more than half of Alaskan Eskimo adults smoke, their level of physical activity has decreased from traditional levels, and their intake of saturated and trans fats, rather than heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids (found in fish), has increased.
India has the highest incidence of acute coronary syndromes in the world, according to a report in the journal The Lancet. And it is still increasing so that in 2 years, it is predicted that India will account for 60% of heart disease cases globally.
A large proportion of the Indian population used to be vegetarian. The economic development in India has brought about changes in lifestyle which proved to be high risk factors for cardiovascular disease. These changes include higher incidence of smoking and diet rich with saturated fat.
Obesity used to be very rare in China. The past 20 years observed a rapid in the economy resulting in lifestyle changes in the Chinese population. These changes are especially evident among high-income urban residents and resulted in increased incidence of obesity and obesity-related chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. This was according to a report published in the International Journal of Obesity.
Another report in the Chinese Medical Journal estimates that 1 in every 5 Chinese is overweight. The causes can be traced to poor nutrition and lack of physical exercise. The once agricultural country is now highly industrialized so that more and more people sit in assembly lines or behind computers rather than working in the fields.
Unfortunately, though many countries are developing fast economically, their healthcare systems are not up to speed in meeting the health challenges that progress bring. Awareness and prevention programs, as well as and emergency treatment are inadequate.
From lessons learned in North America and Europe, it is expected that this trend in cardiovascular diseases in many fast developing countries will worsen before it gets better.