A Spanish study has challenged the long-held belief that people in the Mediterranean all enjoy more healthy diets and lifestyles, after discovering alarmingly high cardiovascular risk factors similar to those found in the UK and USA.
Research published in the January issue of IJCP, the International Journal of Clinical Practice, also found strong links between low levels of education and increased risk.
"Cardiovascular diseases account for 33 per cent of deaths in Spain, making it the main cause of mortality in the country" says Dr Ricardo Gmez-Huelgas from the Internal Medicine Department at Hospital Carlos Haya, Malaga.
The study was carried out on a random selection of 2,270 adults attending a healthcare centre in Malaga, Andalucia, a region with one of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease in Spain. The participants ranged from 18 to 80, with an average of just under 44 years, 50.3 per cent were female and 58 per cent had low educational levels.
More than 60 per cent were overweight or obese and 77 per cent did not get enough exercise. The researchers also found that 28 per cent smoked, 33 per cent had high blood pressure, seven per cent had diabetes and 65 per cent had high cholesterol levels.
Just under 30 per cent of the patients had three or more cardiovascular risk factors that could be modified by changes to their lifestyle or diet.
"Most of the cardiovascular risk factors increased with age, with the exception of smoking and low levels of 'good' cholestererol, and we noted some differences between the sexes" says Dr Gmez-Huelgas.
"We also found that a low education level was associated with a high prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors and this association was significant when it came to smoking, obesity, abdominal obesity and high levels of fatty molecules.
"The prevalence of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol in Spain have all
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