Most Americans don’t have optimal heart health, study finds


PHeart health is rare in the United States and increasingly rare. A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology finds that less than 7% of all US adults have optimal health in five key areas related to heart and metabolic health: weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease status. And the problem is getting worse.

These five categories were adapted from the American Heart Association’s definition of ideal cardiovascular and metabolic health. The study, which analyzed National Health and Nutrition Survey data from more than 55,000 people over the age of 20, found that most Americans have at least one cardiometabolic risk factor – conditions such as being overweight and a history of heart attack, heart failure or stroke. , which increase the risk of problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The researchers also found that cardiometabolic health continues to decline over time. (The surveys included in the study were conducted annually from 1999 to 2000, from 2017 to 2018.) The researchers identified two important factors behind this decline: an increase in the proportion of people who are overweight or obese , as well as an increase in blood sugar levels in the population. The most recent data included in the study revealed that less than a quarter of Americans had a normal body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, compared to 34%, while only 37% had healthy blood sugar levels. against 59%.

Another major concern is that the risk is not evenly distributed across the population. While the number of white adults with optimal cardiometabolic health has increased slightly over time, the rate has decreased somewhat among other races. And overall, male, black, Mexican American, or older Americans are generally less likely to be in optimal cardiometabolic health than people with other demographic characteristics. The level of education also seems to be a factor. Only 5% of poorly educated American adults had optimal cardiometabolic health, for example, compared to 10% of those with a higher education.

“We were definitely surprised by the scale of the problem,” says Meghan O’Hearn, a doctoral candidate at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, who co-authored the research. “It’s a pretty dismal situation, and it’s only gotten worse over the past 20 years.”

While their findings are troubling, O’Hearn stressed that they should be a “call to action” for policymakers, who can improve access to healthy foods by expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, by reallocating agricultural subsidies and incentives to groups that produce more nutritious options. , and prioritize health education, she says.

Individuals can also improve their cardiometabolic health by eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds, legumes and healthy fats, and by becoming more physically active, O’Hearn says. The American Heart Association also offers a checklist of behaviors essential for optimal health; in June, the group added adequate sleep – 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night – to the list for the first time.

Improving cardiometabolic health is physically and even financially worthwhile, since the United States spends billions of dollars each year in diet-related healthcare costs and loses billions in labor productivity each year. year. For individuals, however, the value is priceless: the possibility of a longer life free of chronic disease.

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