May 12, 2011 / 1:54 AM / 8 years ago

Heart risk factors rising in "Westernizing" Korea: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - As South Korea has become more “Westernised,” the number of adults with multiple risk factors for heart disease and diabetes has steadily climbed, according to a South Korean study.

The findings, published in “Diabetes Care,” call for better prevention efforts to slow the trend — and, more generally, underscore the importance of a healthy diet and exercise for everyone in developed countries.

The study, lead by Kwang Kon Koh of Gil Medical Center in Incheon, looked at Korea’s growing rates of metabolic syndrome, a collection of risk factors for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke over a period from the late 1990s.

Koreans are eating more “Western” food, watching more TV, and getting less exercise than a decade ago.

“The number of people with metabolic syndrome is increasing worldwide, and changes in scoioenvironmental factors contribute to this increase,” wrote Koh and fellow researchers.

They added that given recent rapid changes in South Korea, both in environment and lifestyle, such an investigation would help set up strategies to cope with the problem.

People with metabolic syndrome generally have at least three of several risk factors, including abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, low levels of “Good” HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides — a type of blood fat.

In 1998, the study found 25 percent of Korean adults age 20 and up had metabolic syndrome. By 2007, that figure had risen to just over 31 percent — close to the rate of 34 percent seen in the U.S. at that time.

The time corresponded to a time of fast economic growth in Korea and the less-than-healthy lifestyle changes that often come with that.

Abdominal obesity, low HDL, and high triglycerides all became more common, the study — based on a periodic government health study of Korean adults aged 20 and older.

The only positive factor was that the rate of high blood pressure dipped — which may, the researchers wrote, be because the traditional Korean diet is high in salt, and shifts away from this have lowered salt intake.

“Lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet with low sodium, carbohydrates, and fat, should be emphasised,” they said.

This is not the first study to find Western-style health problems emerging in Asian nations going through rapid economic growth.

A recent study in urban India found steadily rising rates of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes among young adults the researchers followed for seven years.

Reporting by Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies

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