The nation’s embrace of Western foods like red meat and soda has exacerbated the problem, researchers from Harvard University found.
BEIJING — High blood pressure and obesity are becoming increasingly common in China, contributing to an epidemic of cardiovascular disease that will probably worsen over the next two decades, according to a studypublished on Monday.
The study, by Harvard researchers, suggested that changes in lifestyle brought on by China’s fast-paced economic growth over the past three decades had contributed to a sharp rise in cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes.
In 1979, for example, when the Chinese government began opening up its economy, roughly 8 percent of Chinese adults had high blood pressure. By 2010, the rate had increased to 34 percent.
“China is facing a rising epidemic of cardiovascular disease, and it shows no sign of abating,” Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a statement.
China’s embrace of Western foods, like red meat and soda, has exacerbated the problem, the researchers found. Fast-food restaurants are wildly popular in many provinces, and obesity is a growing problem, especially among rural children.
Decreasing levels of physical activity were also a significant factor, the study found, as more Chinese families have moved to cities from the countryside. Smoking is also widespread, despite efforts by the government to discourage the habit. More than half of Chinese men still smoke.
Cardiovascular illnesses have been the leading cause of death in China for at least two decades. But in recent years, heart attacks and strokes have become more common, especially in rural areas. In 2011, 44 percent of the deaths of people over age 35 were the result of cardiovascular disease, the Harvard researchers found.
The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, was based on data from 26,000 people in nine Chinese provinces from 1991 to 2011. The findings were consistent with other studies warning of worsening rates of cardiovascular illness in China, even as living standards have improved.