Cardiovascular health through a sex and gender lens in six South Asian countries: Findings from the WHO STEPS surveillance

J Glob Health. 2022 Feb 26:12:04020. doi: 10.7189/jogh.12.04020. eCollection 2022.


Background: Sex and gender-based differences in cardiovascular health (CVH) has been explored in the context of high-income countries. However, these relationships have not been examined in low- and middle-income countries. The main aim of this study was to examine how sex and gender-related factors are associated with cardiovascular risk factors of people in South Asian countries.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective analysis of the World Health Organization's "STEPwise approach to surveillance of risk factors for non-communicable disease" or "STEPS" from six South Asian countries, surveys conducted between 2014-2019. The main outcomes were CVH as measured by a composite measure of STEPS-HEART health index (smoking, physical activity, fruit and vegetable consumption, overweight/obesity, diabetes and hypertension), values ranging from 0 (worst) to 6 (best or ideal) and self-reported occurrence of cardiovascular disease (ie, heart attack and stroke). Multivariate linear and logistic regression models were performed. Multiple imputation with chained equations was performed.

Results: The final analytic sample consisted of 33 106 participants (57.5% females). The mean STEPS-HEART index score in the South Asian population was 3.43 [SD: 0.92]. Female sex (β: 0.05, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.01-0.08, P < 0.05) was significantly associated with better CVH compared to males. Being married (βmale = -0.30, 95% CI = -0.37, -0.23 vs βfemale = -0.23, 95% CI = -0.29, -0.17; P < 0.001) and having a household size ≥5 (βmale = -0.15, 95% CI = -0.24, -0.06 vs βfemale = -0.11, 95% CI = -0.16, -0.04; P < 0.01) were associated with poorer CVH, more so in males. Being married was also associated with high risk of CVD (ORmale = 2.54, 95% CI = 1.68-3.86, P < 0.001 vs ORfemale = 1.19, 95% CI = 0.84-1.68, P = 0.31), significant in males.

Conclusions: Among the South Asian population, being female may be advantageous in having an ideal CVH. However, gender-related factors such as marital status and large household size were associated with poorer CVH and greater risk of CVD, regardless of sex.

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • World Health Organization