NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Heart Disease Growing in Poorer Nations

April 26, 2004

The incidence of cardiovascular disease is rising in developing countries, particularly among working-age people, according to a new report by Columbia University's Earth Institute and other groups.

The report challenges the notion that cardiovascular disease is largely an illness of the affluent, industrialized world. It also supports mounting evidence that modern living standards in poorer countries come at a price.

Indeed, the rate of cardiovascular disease in the developing world is climbing for many of the same reasons that led to its becoming the West's leading killer: high smoking rates, fat- and sugar-rich diets, and a decrease in physical activity. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes -- all leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease -- are also on the rise.

  • The report predicts that by 2030, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes will cumulatively account for as many as 41 percent of deaths among people between 35 and 64 in the developing world, compared with about 12 percent of U.S. deaths in the same age group.
  • One contributing factor is demographics: In a phenomenon analogous to the baby boom in the United States, the number of people from 35 to 64 in developing countries is expected to double to five billion in 2040, from 2.5 billion in 2000.
  • Another factor: With scourges such as infant mortality, measles, infections and other health threats steadily receding, more people in developing nations are living long enough to see heart-related complications.

The fallout could be not only huge loss of human life, but a stanching of labor productivity necessary for now-emerging economies to thrive, says Stephen Leeder, who headed the study.

Source: Ron Winslow, "More Heart Disease To Hit Poorer Nations Unless They Act Now," Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2004; Stephen Leeder, Susan Raymond and Henry Greenberg, "Race Against Time: the challenge of cardiovascular disease in developing economies," April 26, 1004, Earth Institute, Mailman School of Public Health and Australian Health Policy Institute.

For WSJ text (subscription required),,SB108291854472092702,00.html


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