Most Americans Do Not Have Optimal Heart Health, Study Says

Peak heart health is rare in the U.S.—and increasingly uncommon. The Journal of Heart Disease published a new study. Journal of the American College of CardiologyIt was found that less than 7% Americans are in good health. This includes five areas of heart health and metabolism: blood sugar, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. This problem is worsening.

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 Examination Survey data from more than 55,000 people over age 20, found that most Americans have at least one cardiometabolic risk factor—conditions like being overweight and having had a past heart attack, heart failure, or stroke, which raise the risk of problems like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Researchers also discovered that cardiovascular health continues to decline over time. Surveys were done annually between 2017 and 2018, from 1999 to 2000. Researchers identified two major reasons for the decline in body mass: an increase in people who are obese or overweight and rising levels of glucose in the population. The most recent data included in the study found that less than a quarter of Americans had a normal body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference—down from 34%—while only 37% had healthy glucose levels, down from 59%.

Another major concern is that risk isn’t equally distributed across the population. Although the percentage of adult whites with good cardiometabolic function has increased, it is less than the other races. Overall, Americans of Mexican descent, Black or Mexican heritage are less likely than others to have optimal cardiometabolic health. Educational status was also a contributing factor..At the same time, only 5% percent of U.S. adults had optimal cardiometabolic and vascular health, as compared to 10% who have higher education.

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

While their findings were disturbing, O’Hearn emphasized that they should be a “call to action” for policymakers, who can improve access to healthy food through expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, reallocating agricultural subsidies and incentives toward groups that produce more nutritious options, and prioritizing 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 becoming more physically active, says O’Hearn. The American Heart Association also offers a checklist of behaviors critical to optimal health; in June, the group added getting sufficient sleep—7 to 9 hours of sleep per night—to the list for the first time.

Aiming to improve cardiometabolic and financial health can be a good investment, as the U.S. loses billions annually in productivity and spends billions on healthcare. The value to individuals is in the ability to live a long life without chronic illness.

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