Some Ethnic Groups Had Higher Heart Disease Risk Than Others

Heart disease risk was higher in blacks, South Asians and East Asians than in whites, but these groups were less likely to be aware of their risks

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) When it comes to heart disease risk, ignorance may not always be bliss. Some ethnic groups had a higher risk for heart disease, but they were less aware of that risk than other groups, a new study found.

The study found that people of African, East Asian or South Asian descent were more likely to have risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure or diabetes. Despite this raised risk, these groups were less likely to know about their heart disease risks.

The study authors recommended specially designed education for these groups to raise their heart disease awareness.

Although patients may survive a heart attack or stroke, their quality of life may be poor. For example, a stroke can affect speech or vision. Changes in diet, activity and lifestyle — such as quitting smoking — can help prevent heart attacks, strokes and other complications of heart disease.

Lead study author Eric Coomes, a medical student at the University of Toronto, and colleagues surveyed 4,682 patients at an urgent care clinic in Toronto, Canada. The patients were between the ages of 23 and 51. Most were female.

The patients were asked to identify their ethnicity and record how long they had been in Canada. They were also asked whether they had heart disease risk factors like obesity or high cholesterol.

The survey also asked about possible heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure. Also, the survey included questions about lifestyle activities like smoking and exercise.

The study authors then grouped the patients according to ethnicity: South Asian, East Asian, black and white.

South Asians reported significantly higher rates of type 2 diabetes than whites. Type 2 diabetes, a disease marked by the body's inability to process the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar, may eventually cause heart disease. South Asians were 2.31 times more likely to have diabetes than whites.

South Asians were also more likely to have low-activity lifestyles than whites. However, South Asians also reported they had lower stress levels, the authors found.

East Asians reported higher rates of high blood pressure and low-activity lifestyles. They were 1.48 times more likely to have high blood pressure that whites.

Blacks were 1.4 times more likely to have high blood pressure and 1.88 times more likely to have type 2 diabetes than whites. East Asians and blacks had similar levels of stress when compared to whites, however.

All ethnic groups other than whites were less aware that diabetes, obesity, stress and a lack of exercise increased the risk for heart disease. Blacks and South Asians were much less likely to know that diabetes increased their risk of heart disease. For example, South Asians and blacks were 1.68 times less likely than whites to know that diabetes and heart disease were related. South Asians, however, were more than twice as likely to report having diabetes when compared to whites.

Both blacks and Asians were less likely to report smoking than whites. All ethnic groups except whites were less likely to realize that smoking could increase the risk of heart disease. South and East Asians were more than twice as likely as whites to be unaware of the connection between obesity and heart disease.

"We know that different ethnic groups have varying predispositions for cardiovascular disease," Coomes said in a press release. "But the fact remains that a significant proportion of premature heart disease and stroke may be prevented."

Even people who are not recent immigrants may still struggle with language barriers. In a press release, Dr. Chi-Ming Chow, a cardiologist and spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, noted that many of his patients faced language barriers when trying to understand important health information.

Cultural beliefs may also affect some ethnic groups' knowledge of health. South Asians, for instance, may believe obesity is out of their control and, rather, the will of a higher power, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Obesity.

The authors of the new study noted that some ethnic groups may need education targeted and tailored to them to lower their heart disease risk.

The study was presented Oct. 27 at the 2014 Canadian Cardiovascular Congress. It was also published in the October issue of the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.


Review Date: 
October 29, 2014
Last Updated:
November 3, 2014