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Bad habits threaten nation’s progress against CVD


Poor eating and exercise habits could be game-changers in the fight against deaths from heart disease and stroke, according to a report by the American Heart Association.

“Americans need to move a lot more, eat healthier and less, and manage risk factors as soon as they develop,” Alan S. Go, MD, chairman of the committee that wrote the report and chief of the Cardiovascular and Metabolic Conditions Section of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research in Oakland, said in a news release.

“If not, we’ll quickly lose the momentum we’ve gained in reducing heart attack and stroke rates and improving survival over the last few decades.”

Between 1999 and 2009, the rate of deaths from cardiovascular disease fell 32.7%, but still accounted for nearly one in three deaths nationally. Each day, 2,150 people die from CVD, about one death every 40 seconds.

In 2010, the American Heart Association set a goal to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20% and reduce heart disease and stroke deaths by 20% by 2020.

However, according to projections in the report, “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistical Update 2013,” heart health may improve by only 6% if trends continue. The biggest barriers to success are projected increases in obesity and diabetes and only modest improvements in diet and physical activity.

On a positive note, smoking, high cholesterol and hypertension pressure rates are projected to decline, according to the report.

Among heart disease and stroke risk factors, the most recent data shows more adults ages 20 and over are obese (34.6%) than normal or underweight (31.8%); 68.2% are overweight or obese. Among children ages 2 to 19, 31.8% are overweight or obese.

Regarding aerobic activity, 32% of adults reported getting none, while 17.7% of girls and 10% of boys in grades 9 through 12 reported getting less than an hour of aerobic activity during the past week.

Meanwhile, 13.8% of adults reported having total cholesterol of 240 milligrams per deciliter or higher, and 33% reported hypertension. African Americans have among the highest prevalence of hypertension (44%) worldwide.

And 8.3% of adults have diagnosed diabetes, while another 8.2% have undiagnosed diabetes and 38.2% have prediabetes.

Despite four decades of a downward trend, 21.3% of men and 16.7% of women ages 18 and older still smoke cigarettes, while 18.1% of students in grades 9 through 12 reported cigarette smoking.

“We’re focusing on population-based ways to improve health for all Americans,” said Donna Arnett, PhD, president of the American Heart Association and chairperson of the Department of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

These steps include working with healthcare systems to support and reward providers who help patients improve their health behaviors and manage their health risk factors; working with insurers to cover preventive health services and reward positive health behaviors and medication adherence; working with the education community to make changes in schools that support healthy diets and physical activity for children; building comprehensive worksite wellness programs; and building healthier communities with improved access to healthier foods and green space for physical activity.

“In this race against time, it will take nationwide efforts driven by communities and systems; a patient-by-patient approach alone won’t do it,” Arnett said. “But we’re optimistic that if we increase our efforts for improvements in prevention and reductions in risk factors, we can be successful. And we can save lives.”

The report appeared Dec. 12 on the website of the journal Circulation and is available as a PDF at

More about American Heart Association policy initiatives is available at


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