A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology had a starling message. It said that America is at a critical infection point for heart and metabolic health.
Looking at more than 55,000 people above the age of 20, researchers accessed cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, obesity and heart diseases. Less than one in 15 had good health in all areas, and the rate is heading downward. Only 6.8 percent had good health in all five areas in 2017. In 1999, 7.7 percent of U.S. adults were considered in good cardiometabolic health. There were “striking disparities” in the health levels by age, sex, education level, race and ethnicity.
“It’s deeply problematic that in the United States, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, fewer than one in 15 adults have optimal cardiometabolic health,” said Meghan O’Hearn, of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts Univ. in Boston, the lead author of the study.
In 1999, one in three adults was a healthy weight. Now, only one in four is. Blood sugar concerns have also skyrocketed. Blood pressure has worsened but only a little. The incidences of heart diseases have remained stable. The only welcome news is that there has been a reduction in high cholesterol since 1999.
“Diet is one of the primary contributors to unhealthy weight gain and poor blood glucose levels, and diet quality in the U.S. is poor, and getting worse,” said Ms. O’Hearn. “These findings suggest the urgency of reforming our food system.”
One of the top ways to turn this trend around, according to Ms. O’Hearn, is “food medicine.” We frequently write about using diet as a way to prevent illness and aid health. In addition to educating people more on what a healthy diet looks like, there need to be more policies in place to make healthy food more affordable and accessible. Ms. O’Hearn said there should be more action for early intervention to improve children’s lifestyles to help them eat better and be more active. And there should be more research into these health problems and why they are rising.
Worryingly, all of this data came from before the pandemic lockdowns. Many of us were stuck inside for months. And, for many people, life still hasn’t returned to normal. Routines have shifted; people gave up work; healthy habits slipped by the wayside. It’s possible that these numbers would be worse if the researchers were to take the same measurements today.
“The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have affected people’s access to healthy, affordable foods,” Ms. O’Hearn said. “Many people have been less physically active during the pandemic as well. So if I had to speculate, I would say things like glucose levels are probably getting worse.”
“This is a health crisis we’ve been facing for a while,” Ms. O’Hearn said.
It’s time we step up and take matters into our own hands. We can’t wait for governmental regulation. Until they act, talk to your doctor about your diet and how you can help yourself through what you eat and lifestyle changes. It can be the first step to a healthier tomorrow.