Heart disease remains the number one killer in the United States, and stroke is a leading cause for disability. The good news is that many of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease are modifiable, which can decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke. These risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and smoking. By limiting the effects of these risk factors and following a heart healthy diet plus participating in regular exercise, we can limit the chances that a heart attack or stroke will occur.
Researchers, led by Cheryl Fryar from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have found that most Americans have seen a decrease in the degree and number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease over the past decade. The results of their work were published in a report included in the National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief. The researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES study).
The major findings of the study were as follows:
- In the year 2009 to 2010, 47% of Americans had at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke
- Men are more likely to have at least one cardiovascular risk factor
- During the years 1999 to 2010, there was a decrease in the percentage of non-Hispanic white and Mexican American adults who had at least one risk factor
- During the years 1999 to 2010, the prevalence of uncontrolled high blood pressure and uncontrolled LDL cholesterol levels decreased
- Unfortunately, there was no significant change in the percentage of adults who smoke during the study period
The authors wrote, “In 2009–2010, approximately 46.5% of U.S. adults aged 20 and over had at least one of three risk factors for [cardiovascular disease] and stroke. More than one-quarter were current smokers, more than 23% had uncontrolled high levels of LDL [cholesterol], and almost 12% had uncontrolled high blood pressure. Adults who were male, or female aged 60 and over, or non-Hispanic black, or of lower income were more likely to have one of the risk factors for [cardiovascular disease] compared with their counterparts”.
These results are encouraging and suggest that as a nation, the United States can work towards healthier lifestyles that decrease our cardiovascular risk. In the future, more work will need to be done to encourage smoking cessation as this was the one risk factor studied that did not show improvement. Emphasizing risk factor reduction is an excellent investment for the future health of all Americans. As we all know, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Cheryl D. Fryar et al. “Prevalence of Uncontrolled Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease: United States, 1999-2010” National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief Number 103, August 2012