Aim: To examine the burden of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors in Middle East and North Africa countries and their associations with dietary behaviors as nutrition transition is unfolding in the region. Data: Data on CVD risk factors were collected from scholarly papers and a systematic review of published articles was performed. Dietary patterns were derived from the WHO Food and Agriculture Organization Statistical Databases. Results: Wide variations exist across countries in the prevalence of CVD risk factors, namely obesity, diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, smoking and physical inactivity, with some countries showing high values of certain factors which approach those observed in the developed world. In particular, obesity prevalence rates have reached alarming levels, particularly among women in the oil-rich countries (over 40%), making it the most pressing health concern in the region. Trends in the dietary pattern illustrated a consistent rise in total energy supply by approximately 730 kcal per capita per day between 1970 and 2005. Dietary patterns showed an increased consumption of fat and animal protein and a decreased intake of carbohydrates, particularly whole grain cereals, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Conclusion: Regional differences were attributed to differences in lifestyle, occupation and a shift from traditional food habits. Our understanding of the CVD disparities across various geographic regions is key to our effort in planning relevant intervention programs. Public health efforts should focus on obesity, physical inactivity and unhealthy dietary practices. The success of these interventions depends on governmental commitment, multisectoral partnership and a consideration of the sociocultural norms of the target population.
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