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Metabolic syndrome may affect almost one in five Canadians

Sept. 13, 2011

By Patricia Nicholson

A study estimating the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in Canada found that almost 20 per cent of Canadian adults may meet the criteria for the syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of symptoms occurring together that substantially raise the risk of heart disease. The syndrome is defined as having three or more of the following criteria:

  • waist circumference of more than 88 centimetres (34.6 inches) in women, or 102 centimetres (40.2 inches) in men
  • high levels of triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood
  • low HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol)
  • high blood pressure (130/85 mm Hg or higher)
  • high fasting blood glucose levels

The study is based on data from Statistics Canada’s 2007-09 Canadian Health Measures Survey to measure the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in Canada. StatsCan surveyed about 5,000 people who were representative of about 97 per cent of Canadians. For the metabolic syndrome study, researchers at the University of Manitoba used the data on all participants over age 18, except pregnant women.

They found that about 19 per cent – or almost one in five – Canadian adults had metabolic syndrome. They also found that while metabolic syndrome was much more common in older adults, a substantial number of younger people were also affected:

  • 17 per cent of people under 40
  • 17.5 per cent of people in their 40s
  • 27.3 per cent of people in their 50s
  • 39.7 per cent of people in their 60s
  • 39 per cent of people in their 70s

The study results also indicate that income and education levels were linked to prevalence of metabolic syndrome. People with higher incomes or higher levels of education appeared to be at greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome than those with lower incomes or less education.

Metabolic syndrome was more common in women than men, with 20.5 per cent of women (more than one in five) having three or more of the criteria, compared to 17.8 per cent of men.

A large waist measurement (known as abdominal obesity) was the most common of the five criteria, affecting more than one third of Canadian adults (35 per cent), and was more common in women than men (40 per cent of women, compared to 29 per cent of men). It also increased with age, with a prevalence of 23 per cent in people under 40, and rising to almost 53 per cent in people in their 70s.

Prevalence of low “good” cholesterol was estimated at about one-third of the population (33.6 per cent). There were no significant differences in prevalence by age or sex.

Men were more likely than women to have high blood glucose (18.9 per cent compared to 13.6 per cent) and high triglycerides (29 per cent compared to 20 per cent). Both of these criteria also increased with age.

Prevalence of high blood pressure was almost one in four (24.3 per cent), and was roughly the same in men and women. It did, however, increase with age.

Considering that the prevalence of many criteria for metabolic syndrome increase with age, it is alarming that almost one-quarter of young (under 40) adults already have abdominal obesity (23.1 per cent), and more than one-third have low “good” cholesterol (34 per cent).

The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Sept. 12, 2011.

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital