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More Adults At Risk Of Heart Disease

Only 7.5 percent of Americans are now in the clear when it comes to heart disease risk factors according to a new study.

Resaerchers found that several decades of steady reductions in heart disease may be on the wane.  The obesity epidemic affecting millions of Americans bears much of the blame for the increased risk.  As a result, the decline in cardiovascular disease mortality in the U.S. seems to be coming to an end and may even reverse itself.

A worsening cardiovascular risk profile in the population could potentially lead to increases in the incidence and prevalence of cardiovascular disease, noted researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.   The increases in cardiovascular disease and diabetes will affect the nation’s medical costs, stated Jesse Slome, director of the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance.  Medical costs account for two-thirds of all U.S. bankruptcies, he noted.

The researchers collected data on adults 25 to 74 years of age looking for low-risk factors for heart disease.  These include items such as not smoking, having low blood cholesterol, normal blood pressure, normal weight and no sign of diabetes.

Using data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, the study found that in 1971 to 1975, a paltry 4.4 percent of adults had all five of these heart-healthy factors. However, by 1994 that number had risen to 10.5 percent of adults. 

The latest data, from 2004, found that the fraction of American adults with all five healthy characteristics had dropped to 7.5 percent.  Minorities tended to fare worst, since whites tended to have more low-risk factors than either blacks or Mexican-Americans, the report found.

The reserachers identified three reasons for the backslide in health; decreases in the percentages of adults who were not overweight or obese, a decrease in those who had a favorable blood pressure, and an increase in the number who have diabetes.  There was one bright spot in the report, a decrease in the percentage of adults who were not currently smoking.

Because excess weight is a major cause of diabetes and hypertension, it is critical that the percentage of adults who are overweight or obese be reduced, the researchers noted.  “This alarming development is occurring despite great improvements in medical interventions to prevent cardiovascular diseases,” he said. “It is of particular concern that these trends do not yet reflect the consequences of the current epidemic of childhood obesity.”

If these trends continue, the recent gains in life expectancy in the U.S. will be lost, the medical experts noted.

The study was published in the Sept. 14 online edition of Circulation.

SOURCES: Earl S. Ford, M.D., M.P.H., U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Rob M. van Dam, Ph.D., assistant professor, medicine, Harvard Medical School; Boston; Gregg C. Fonarow, M.D., professor, cardiology, University of California, Los Angeles; Sept. 14, 2009, Circulation, online

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