Diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other afflictions that once primarily plagued wealthier, western countries are now accelerating in poorer nations.

A new study reveals that risk factors for heart disease in Indian cities are now more prevalent than they are in the U.S. or Western Europe per capita. And with a population of more than 1.1 billion, India's health is a major global concern.

Cardiovascular disease is still the leading killer in the U.S., but it has been on steady decline for decades. In India and other countries, such as China and Brazil, this and other diseases linked to an unhealthier lifestyle, are on the rise.

"India has the dubious distinction of being known as the coronary and diabetes capital of the world," Prakash Deedwania, of the University of California, San Francisco and co-author of the report, said in a prepared statement.

For the study, the researchers assessed the health of 6,198 adults who lived in 11 cities in various parts of India. Across the country about 79 percent of men and 83 percent of women didn't get much exercise, and 41 percent of men and 45 percent of women were overweight or obese, the team found. And high-fat, low-fruit-and-vegetable diets were common. All of these trends put people at higher odds for developing—and dying from—cardiovascular disease. The findings were presented April 20 in Dubai at the World Congress of Cardiology.

People in the study seemed largely unaware of their risks for heart disease. Only about half of the approximately 2,000 subjects who had high blood pressure already knew about their condition, and only about a quarter of them had their blood pressure under control, the researchers found.

The region where the subjects lived did not seem to change their risk by much. However, those who lived in more highly developed cities were more likely to have metabolic risk factors, whereas those in less developed cities were more likely to have more lifestyle-based risk factors, according to a related study also presented at the meeting.

These results should "prompt the government to develop public health strategies that will change lifestyles," Deedwania said.

To best combat heart disease in India, Rajeev Gupta, of Fortis Escorts Hospital in Jaipur, also noted in a prepared statement, that there needs to be a comprehensive approach, which will require "improvements in basic amenities, healthcare facilities and, perhaps most importantly, education that will enable people to take responsibility for their own actions."