Growing Chinese Waistlines Raise Risks

Type 2 diabetes risk higher in Chinese teens than in US teens

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) In the past couple decades, China's economy has changed dramatically. At the same time, there have been similarly large changes in the dietary and exercise habits of the Chinese people, boosting diabetes and heart risks.

The risk of diabetes may be almost four times higher in Chinese teenagers than in US teenagers.

"Lose weight to help prevent diabetes."

As the risk of diabetes in China has increased so, too, has the risk for heart disease. These increased risks are due largely to increased rates of being overweight and obesity in the Chinese population, according to Barry Popkin, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), and colleagues from UNC and the Chinese Center for Disease Control.

Through their study of more than 29,000 people, the researchers found that many Chinese people are overweight and at risk of heart problems and diabetes.

Among Chinese children between 7 and 17 years of age, the rate of diabetes was 1.9 percent. In the same age group, the rate of pre-diabetes (higher than normal blood sugar, but not high enough to be called diabetes) was 14.9 percent.

The researchers pointed out that the children's blood chemistry had high levels of HbA1c, a measure of blood sugar over time.

"What is unprecedented is the changes in diet, weight and cardiovascular risk for children age 7 and older," said Dr. Popkin.

"These estimates highlight the huge burden that China's healthcare system is expected to face if nothing changes," he said.

"The findings suggest a very high burden of chronic disease risk starting at a young age, with 1.7 million Chinese children ages 7-18 having diabetes and another 27.7 million considered pre-diabetic," he said.

The US healthcare system is facing a similar burden as growing rates of obesity lead to higher risks of heart disease and diabetes. However, it appears the Chinese burden is greater at the moment.

While 1.9 percent of Chinese children aged 12 to 18 years had diabetes, 0.5 percent of American children of the same age group had diabetes.

The risk of inflammation - a large risk factor for heart disease - was also greater in Chinese teenagers. Slightly more than 12 percent of Chinese teenagers had a high inflammation risk, compared to 8.5 percent of American teenagers.

"The number of individuals with high levels of at least one cardiovascular risk factor increased to 85 percent in individuals age 40 and older," said Penny Gordon-Larsen, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and one of the study's authors.

"Of even greater concern is the fact that we see these high levels of risk in individuals living across the entire country - in rural and urban as well as high- and low-income areas," said Dr. Gordon-Larsen.

"So the impending healthcare costs and implications are immense," she said.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Chinese Center for Disease Control.

The study is published in Obesity Reviews.

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Review Date: 
July 17, 2012
Last Updated:
January 25, 2013