Weight Gain Increases Sleep Apnea in China

An average of 38.5 percent of Chinese aged 15 or older have a body mass index of 25 or greater, which means they are overweight or obese, according to 2010 figures from the World Health Organization. About 4 percent of the Chinese population is obese, which means they have a body mass index of 30 or greater.

The combined rate of overweight and obese Chinese has increased by 54 percent from 2002, while the rate of obesity alone has increased 208 percent over the same time. About 78 percent of U.S. adults meet the same standard of overweight or obese, according to WHO figures, with 46.2 percent having a body mass index of 30 or greater.

Those who suffer from sleep apnea can be at higher risk for problems ranging from heart attacks to memory loss. Research suggests that effects of untreated sleep apnea are often more serious than insomnia, a condition which many Chinese do not experience due to a cultural tradition of taking afternoon naps, doctors say.

Numerous studies have suggested that Asians are already more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than Caucasians because of facial structures that result in smaller upper airways. One 2011 study published in the journal Sleep and Breathing found that nearly 70 percent of Asian subjects had some form of sleep apnea. Fatty tissue in the throat brought on by weight gain can bring on or exacerbate the condition, doctors say.

Doctors said that high-calorie, Western-style fast food is a leading factor in China’s increasing sleep issues. As consumer preferences have shifted away from full-service restaurants, China’s $90 billion fast food industry has expanded at an annualized rate of 16.9 percent over the last five years, according to Los Angeles-based research firm IBIS World. There are now over 1.9 million fast food restaurants in the country.

The increase of sleep problems is definitely related to the increase of obesity in China, which partially results from changes of the diet structure of Chinese people. High-calorie fast-food especially contributes to rising rates of sleep apnea in children, who are more likely to eat foreign fast food than older generations, he said.

Indeed, rising consumer incomes and changing tastes have driven the expansion of Yum Brands’ KFC, Pizza Hut and other Western-style fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s in urban areas over the last decade.

Dr. He Quanying, the head of the sleep research branch of the Chinese Medical Association, said that “with an increasing obesity rate in China, we will definitely see more sleep problems like apnea.” He said that the blame for the rising apnea rates comes down to the fact that “Chinese are eating too much and don’t exercise enough.”

Some Chinese with obstructive sleep apnea are seeking help from medical professionals, according to Dr. Han Fang, the chairman of the Chinese Sleep Research Society whose sleep clinic in Beijing used to have fewer than one patient with sleep-related respiratory problems a week on average, but is now seeing 10-20 of them every night.

Source: International Science Times

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