In a gym rush? Only 7% of US adults have good cardiometabolic health

MEDFORD, MA – More than nine out of 10 American adults may want to skip the summer barbecue and go on a diet instead. A new study found that less than seven percent of the nation’s elderly population has what health experts consider good cardiometabolic health.

Tufts University researchers say this measure includes five key components of health: blood pressure, blood sugar, blood cholesterol, obesity (overweight or obesity), and the presence or absence of cardiovascular disease.

Weight and blood sugar are out of control

Using information on approximately 55,000 people over the age of 20, the results show simply 6.8 percent of American adults reached optimal levels of health in all five categories in 2018. Additionally, the study found that Americans’ health has been in sharp decline over the past 20 years.

In 1999, one in three adults had healthy levels of obesity, meaning they were at a healthy weight and not overweight or obese. By 2018, that number had dropped to just one in four Americans.

At the same time, in 1999, three out of five people were free of diabetes and prediabetes. By 2018, however, more than six in 10 adults had one of these conditions!

“These numbers are staggering. “It is deeply problematic that in the United States, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, fewer than 1 in 15 adults have optimal cardiometabolic health,” said Megan O’Hearn, a PhD student in the Friedman School of Nutrition, in a media release. “We need a complete overhaul of our health system, food system and built environment because this is a crisis for everyone, not just one section of the population.”

Instead of simply looking for signs of disease, the team focused their research on signs of good, moderate and poor cardiometabolic health.

“Disease is not the only problem,” explains O’Hearn. “We don’t just want to get rid of disease. We want to achieve optimal health and well-being.”

Are social differences part of the problem?

The researchers also found large disparities in health among American adults of different genders, ages, ethnicities, and education levels. Specifically, the study found that Americans with less education were half as likely to be in peak cardiometabolic health.

Although there was a slight increase in the number of non-Hispanic white Americans who achieved good cardiometabolic health between 1999 and 2018, the study authors said those measures declined for Mexican Americans, other Latinos, non-Hispanic blacks and adults of other races.

“This is really problematic. “Social determinants of health such as food and nutrition security, social and community context, economic stability, and structural racism place individuals of various educational levels, races, and ethnicities at increased risk for health problems,” said senior author Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School.

It’s important to note that this study used data from before the coronavirus pandemic, a time when physical activity had declined significantly. Previous studies have shown that sedentary lifestyles during the pandemic have contributed to further declines in health and fitness since 2020.

“Much of the population is at a critical inflection point”

Not everyone in the study has passed the point of no return as far as their health is concerned. Researchers say many fall into the category of “intermediate” levels of health, meaning their cardiometabolic health is not optimal but still not bad. These people may have certain conditions, including prediabetes, prehypertension, or they may be slightly overweight.

“Much of the population is at a critical inflection point,” adds O’Hearn. “Identifying these individuals and addressing their health conditions and lifestyles early is critical to reducing growing health burdens and health inequities.”

“Its impacts on national health spending and the financial health of the entire economy are enormous,” O’Hearn concludes. “And these conditions are largely preventable. We have the public health and clinical interventions and policies to be able to address these issues.

The study is scheduled for publication in Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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