Sleep Apnea Rising In China Due To Poor Diet And Rising Income

By Amir Khan on September 13, 2012 10:07 AM EDT

Child Sleeping
Sleep apnea is on the rise in China, thanks to rising incomes and poor diets. An economic boom in China has led to a high-fat, western-style diet, and it's causing obesity to skyrocket in the country, which also leads to a sizeable increase in sleep apnea. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Sleep apnea is on the rise in China, thanks to rising incomes and poor diets. An economic boom in China has led to a high-fat, western-style diet, and it's causing obesity to skyrocket in the country, which also leads to a sizeable increase in sleep apnea.

"China has gone from famine to gluttony in one or two generations," Paul French, a British expatriate living in the country and the author of the book, "Fat China," told Reuters.

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Fast-foot restaurants have taken hold in China, expanding at a rate of 16.9 percent over the last 5 years  to become a $90 billion industry. There are more than 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," Dr. Han Fang, the chairman of the Chinese Sleep Research Society, told Reuters.

There are approximately 70 million reported cases of sleep apnea in China, and doctors say that number will likely grow as people become more aware of the condition.

"We're barely scraping the surface," Dr. David Rapoport, the director of New York University's Sleep Disorders Center, told Reuters.

People with sleep apnea take abnormally long pauses between breaths in their sleep. The pauses can last up to several minutes and may occur up to 30 times per hour, forcing them to wake up often during the night to take a breath, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Sleep apnea can cause frequent headaches and mood swings and if left untreated increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. 

Over 100 million people worldwide have sleep apnea, many of whom remain undiagnosed according to the World Health Organization. Undiagnosed sleep apnea adds $3.4 billion a year to medical costs, according to a 1999 study.

Sleep apnea is most commonly treated with a continuous positive airway pressure, also known as CPAP, machine. The machine fits over the users face like a mask and blows air into the throat to keep the airway open, allowing the user to sleep without having to wake up to breath. Surgery can also be performed to increase the size of the airway, but is very painful, requires months of recovery and slightly changes facial appearance.

CPAP manufacturers are beginning to expand into China, and are excited over the opportunity,

"(Doctors) are becoming aware of the hand-in-hand nature of obesity and sleep apnea," Ben Haynor, an analyst at Feltl and Company, an investment firm in Minneapolis, told Reuters. "This is going to be a tremendous opportunity."

 As the obesity rate continues to increase, doctors said they expect the sleep apnea rate to continue as well. The only way to stop it is to curb the high-fat diets, researchers said.

"With an increasing obesity rate in China, we will definitely see more sleep problems like apnea," Dr. He Quanying, the head of the sleep research branch of the Chinese Medical Association, said.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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