Diseases such as stroke and heart disease, which have traditionally been associated with Western diets and lifestyles, are also a major problem in Asia according to researchers at The University of Auckland, New Zealand.
Dr Anthony Rodgers, Director of the Clinical Trials Research Unit in the School of Population Health, was a researcher in the Asia Pacific Cohort Studies Collaboration, which assessed the impact of obesity on cardiovascular disease in Asia Pacific.
The study, which has been published in the latest issue of the academic journal International Journal of Epidemiology, found that body mass index (BMI) levels, a measure of body weight, have a strong relationship with cardiovascular disease amongst Asians.
“Our findings indicate that there is an urgent need for effective strategies to prevent further increases in population weight in Asia,” Dr Rodgers says.
The study included data from Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Australia and New Zealand and involved 310,283 participants including 3332 people who had suffered a stroke and 2073 with heart disease.
“Previously there was a lack of data from Asia about BMI and the impact that it has on cardiovascular disease rates amongst Asian people. Although we already knew that there was a strong association between these in Western populations.
“This study is the first to show that excess body weight is just as much a risk to Asian people as it is to Europeans. The difference is that Asian people generally tend to have lower average body weights, but the study showed that there is still an excess risk at these lower BMI levels,” he says.
Dr Rodgers says that the lower someone’s weight, the lower their risk of cardiovascular disease. Usually someone with a BMI over 25 is considered overweight and over 30 is obese, but the risk of cardiovascular disease begins well below these traditional cut-off points.
“We found that people in the Asia Pacific region are at risk of stroke and heart disease at levels well below the cut-off that is currently defined as overweight. So we’d recommend that everyone should strive to maintain his or her BMI well below this point,” he says.
Weight gain is considered to be on the increase in Asia because of the increased availability of processed food and reduced physical activity as motorisation takes a further hold.
“We can all learn a lesson from this that there is a strong relationship between weight gain and cardiovascular disease in all ethnicities. It is in everybody’s interest to monitor and retain the correct weight.
“Weight gain is dangerous for everyone, even if they don’t fit the current criteria for what is considered overweight,” he says.