Cardiovascular risk factors in ethnic populations within Canada: results from national cross-sectional surveys

Open Med. 2010;4(3):e143-53. Epub 2010 Aug 10.


Background: Differences in the prevalence of cardiovascular disease and associated risk factors have been noted across ethnic groups both within and between countries. The Canadian population is becoming increasingly diverse because of immigration. Understanding ethnic differences in cardiovascular risk factors is critically important in planning appropriate prevention strategies for the country's rapidly changing population. We sought to examine the prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors in various Canadian ethnic groups.

Methods: We analyzed 3 cross-sectional cycles (for 2000, 2003 and 2005) of the Canadian Community Health Survey of people aged 12 years and older. The surveys were conducted by means of self-reported questionnaires. We used stratified analysis to evaluate the relation between risk factors and ethnicity. The effect of participants' ethnicity on the prevalence of risk factors was estimated by means of logistic regression, with adjustment for differences in age, sex, marital status, education, household income, language spoken, immigration status, residency type (urban or rural), household size, region (province or territory) and chronic diseases (heart disease, stroke, cancer, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bowel disease, arthritis, epilepsy, ulcers, thyroid disease and diabetes mellitus).

Results: We included 371 154 individuals in the analysis. Compared with white people, people from visible minorities (i.e., neither white nor Aboriginal) had a lower prevalence of diabetes mellitus (4.5% v. 4.0%), hypertension (14.7% v. 10.8%), smoking (20.4% v. 9.7%) and obesity (defined as body mass index ≥ 30; 14.8% v. 9.7%) but a higher prevalence of physical inactivity (50.3% v. 58.1%). More specifically, after adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics, people from most visible minorities, in comparison with the white population, were less likely to smoke; were more likely to be physically inactive, with the exception of people of Korean, Japanese and Latin ethnicity; and were less likely to be obese, with the exception of people of black, Latin, Arab or West Asian ethnicity. However, relative to white people, hypertension was more prevalent among those of Filipino or South East Asian background (odds ratio [OR] 1.54, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.23-1.93) and those of black ancestry (OR 1.69, 95% CI 1.43-2.00).

Interpretation: Cardiovascular risk factors vary dramatically by ethnic group. Health professionals should increase their promotion of physical activity among visible minorities and should prioritize the detection and control of diabetes and hypertension during routine contact with patients of visible minorities, particularly those of South Asian, Filipino and black ethnicity.