Research shows heart health in the U.S. is declining significantly over time.
A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has reported that less than 7% of all U.S. adults have optimal health across five areas: weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease status. And, according to current data, the problem is projected to only get worse over time. These five categories were adapted for the current research from the American Heart Association AHA)’s description of ideal cardiovascular and metabolic health (together, cardiometabolic health).
The study reviewed National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from more than 55,000 people over age 20, finding that most have at least one cardiometabolic risk factor. This means, they are experiencing less than ideal heart health in at least one category. Conditions like obesity, having had a past heart attack, heart failure, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and other adverse factors, of course, diminish an individual’s score.
The surveys included in the present study were conducted annually from 1999 to 2000 and from 2017 and 2018, and the team also found that cardiometabolic health has been declining over time. This is primarily due to an increase in the number of people who are overweight or obese, and simultaneously rising glucose levels. The most recent data included in the study found “less than a quarter of Americans had a normal body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference,” according to the study’s authors.
Breaking down these figures in terms of demographics, while the number of white adults with optimal cardiometabolic health rose slightly over time, the rate declined in other races. Overall, Americans who are male, Black, Mexican American, or older are generally less likely have optimal heart health when compared with people with other demographics. Perhaps not surprisingly, education status also seemed to be a factor. Securing a white collared office job is perceived as less stressful than a manual labor job. Only “5% of U.S. adults with lower education had optimal cardiometabolic health, compared to 10% of people with higher education,” the researchers reports.
“We were definitely surprised by the magnitude of the problem,” said Meghan O’Hearn, a doctoral candidate at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, who co-authored the study. “That’s a pretty dismal situation, and it’s only gotten worse over the last 20 years.”
O’Hearn emphasized the findings 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.”
Individuals can also actively participate in increasing their heart health at home by eating a well-balanced diet and staying physically active, O’Hearn suggested. The AHA also has a checklist of behaviors it deems crucial to improving heart health, which includes other lifestyle changes such as getting sufficient sleep (i.e., 7 to 9 hours).
The U.S. currently spends billions of dollars annually in diet-related healthcare costs and loses billions in workforce productivity. Type 2 diabetes is on the rise as more and more Americans increase their blood sugar to unhealthy levels. The good news is these conditions are reversible and being proactive in one’s health is important for living a long, happy life.