The incidence of heart disease is higher among people living in poorer neighbourhoods than in more affluent areas, says an international team of researchers. In a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, they report that men fare slightly better than women, who are nearly twice as susceptible to heart attacks and strokes than their counterparts in “wealthier neighbourhoods”. It suggests that the prevalence of factors like “physical inactivity, smoking, and poor nutrition”, which often contribute to heart disease, could explain the differing levels of incidence.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, killing more than 16 million people every year. The majority of these deaths now occur in developing countries, where rates of heart attack and stroke have ballooned in the last few decades. Recent research in India suggests that people are increasingly dying of cardiovascular diseases that used to be thought of as typically ‘Western’. In fact, the incidence has been climbing sharply in rural India, where people evidently eat more ‘Westernised’ diets that are high in salt and fats, and smoke more. No wonder heart attacks and strokes kill about a third of adults in these regions, replacing injury and infectious diseases as the top killers.
These results indicate how health problems are changing dramatically even in rural areas in India. The growth of conditions like diabetes, for instance, obviously contributes to an increase in heart disease and stroke in regions that are not well-equipped to deal with such diseases. This huge burden of chronic diseases is an appalling downside to the country’s rapid economic and societal changes. The economic impact is enormous, since cardiovascular diseases evidently occur earlier in life in rural areas, and could possibly snip off more than 1 per cent from India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2015. Since India’s health systems have been designed primarily to cope with infectious diseases, this should be a reality check for health authorities to develop new services to deliver care and prevention for chronic diseases.