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Heart Disease Health Center

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Heart Risk Factors on the Rise Again

Hypertension, Diabetes, and Obesity Are Increasing After Decades of Improvement

Physical Activity and Obesity

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, Ford says. "Addressing this imbalance, by people becoming more active and eating less, would reduce overweight and obesity, which in turn would help to lower blood pressure and prevent diabetes."

The study also shows that:

  • Trends are similar for men and women, though more women in every survey had across-the-board low-risk factors.
  • Whites had a significantly higher prevalence of low-risk factors than African-Americans in all but the 1976-1980 survey.
  • A larger percentage of whites had a low-risk factor burden than Mexican-Americans in 1988-1994 and 1999-2004 surveys.
  • Vigorous population-based approaches are needed to reverse the unhealthy shift in risk factor measures.
  • Health care providers should have adequate time, resources, and reimbursement to engage in prevention efforts.
  • Work and school represent settings where interventions to reduce risk factors could be deployed.

Rob M. van Dam, PhD, and Walter Willett, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital, say in an accompanying editorial that the findings of this latest survey are disturbing, especially since they don't yet reflect the effects of the current epidemic of childhood obesity.

"Much potential exists to reverse ominous trends in cardiovascular risk factors and mortality in the United States, but this is unlikely to occur without making prevention of overweight and obesity a clear national priority," they write.

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