The findings suggest need for strategies to combat unhealthy lifestyles differently for the poor and the rich.
The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study conducted in 17 countries and involving 154,000 individuals from 628 communities reported on the patterns of diet, physical activity and smoking.
The study found individuals who were poor, or from poorer countries were more active chiefly because of higher energy expenditure in jobs, at home, and during transportation.
The markedly lower level of obligatory physical activity was not compensated for by higher levels of recreational physical activity in richer countries or richer individuals.
Those who were rich and those in richer countries quit smoking much more often and thus rates of smoking were lower in the wealthier individuals and wealthier countries.
"Policies to prevent cardiovascular disease need to focus on different aspects of lifestyle among the rich versus the poor and between rich and poor countries," said professor Salim Yusuf of the Population Health Research Institute, McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences and principal investigator of the study.
The study was coordinated worldwide by the Population Health Research Institute and supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Indian Council of Medical Research, several other peer review organizations and pharmaceutical companies.
"These results provide new insights into the need to customize prevention policies differently for the rich and the poor and for countries at different economic levels," said professor David Wood of the University of London, UK and an expert in cardiovascular disease prevention.
The results were presented at the European Society of Cardiology 2012 Congress on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012.