Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Heart Disease Health Center

Font Size

Heart Risk Factors on the Rise Again

Hypertension, Diabetes, and Obesity Are Increasing After Decades of Improvement
WebMD Health News

Sept. 16, 2009 -- The percentage of Americans without major heart disease risk factors rose during the 1980s and 1990s, but our health is declining again, a study shows.

Though the percentage of smokers is still heading south, the number of people with obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure is increasing, shows the study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

"It's not good news," study researcher Earl S. Ford, MD, MPH, of the U.S. Public Health Services at the CDC, tells WebMD. "The effect of all this stuff is going to be determined by the balance of the risk factors."

In a news release, Ford says that "from a preventive health point of view, it's important that individuals achieve as many of these [low-risk] goals as possible, and it's disappointing that less than 10 percent of Americans are meeting them all."

Trends in Heart Disease Risk Factors

About one in 12 adults in the U.S. had a low-risk profile for cardiovascular disease during the 1994-2004 period, he tells WebMD, and that needs to improve.

Ford adds in the news release that the study "suggests that achieving low risk status for most U.S. adults remains a distant and challenging goal. Unfortunately, the limited strides that were made toward this goal during the 1970s and 1980s were eroded by the increases in excess weight, diabetes and hypertension during more recent decades."

Ford's team analyzed data on adults aged 25-74 in four national surveys, examining the prevalence of a low-risk profile for heart disease, which includes all of the following:

  • Never smoked, or former smoker.
  • Total cholesterol below 200 and not using cholesterol-lowering drugs.
  • Blood pressure below 120/80 without using blood pressure-lowering medications.
  • Not overweight or obese, as reflected in a body mass index (BMI) less than 25.
  • Never diagnosed with diabetes.

In many studies, the researchers say, people with a low-risk profile have lower health care costs and are far less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

In the present analysis, they found that 4.4% of adults had all five of the low-risk factors between 1971 and 1975. That rose to 5.7% in the 1976-1980 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and rose again to 10.5% in 1988-1994. But the trend did not continue and the proportion of adults rating at low risk in 1999-2004 fell to 7.5%.

"Until the early '90s, we were moving in a positive direction, but then it took a turn and we're headed in a negative direction," Ford says in a news release. "When you look at the individual factors, tobacco use is still headed in the right direction and so are cholesterol levels, although that has leveled off. The problem is that blood pressure, BMI and diabetes are all headed in the wrong direction."

Today on WebMD

x-ray of human heart
A visual guide.
atrial fibrillation
Symptoms and causes.
heart rate graph
10 things to never do.
heart rate
Get the facts.
empty football helmet
red wine
eating blueberries
Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
Inside A Heart Attack
Omega 3 Sources
Salt Shockers
lowering blood pressure