Bad report card: only 7.5% of us have low risk of heart disease


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If this were a course at school, we’d get a failing grade and have to go for remedial after-school help. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. have delivered a report card on our risks of developing heart disease that is so bad, we’d be embarrassed to take it home to show the parents.

Heart health risks were actually looking up for North Americans during the 1970s and 80s. “The limited strides that were made over two decades of improvement, however, have been eroded by increases in excess weight, diabetes and hypertension during more recent decades,” according to study author Dr. Earl Ford.

Dr. Ford and his team tracked data on adults aged 25-74 in four surveys, examining these low-risk criteria for heart disease: 

• never smoked or former smoker

• total cholesterol within healthy limits, and not using cholesterol-lowering drugs

• blood pressure below 120/80 without using blood pressure-lowering medication

• not overweight or obese

• never diagnosed with diabetes

Ten years before Dr. Ford’s study, about 10% of adults surveyed were rated as low risk for developing heart disease.  But these latest numbers show that that percentage is shrinking to only 7.5% of us, in spite of unprecedented risk factor awareness programs.

Dr. Ford says: “An imbalance in the amount of energy consumed in food and the amount expended in physical activity is likely a major culprit in the negative risk factor trends.”   Translation: we’re eating way too much and not exercising enough.  Trends are similar for both men and women.

Dr. Rob M. van Dam and Dr. Walter C. Willett of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital wrote in the journal Circulation that these findings are disturbing. “The trends among younger age groups have occurred in the presence of unprecedented availability of evidence-based heart disease treatment, and even more worrisome because the trends don’t yet reflect the effects of the current epidemic of childhood obesity”.

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