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Heart Disease Health Center

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Healthy Hearts in Mediterranean Lands? Maybe Not

Study in a Spanish City Shows Heart Risks That Are Similar to U.S. and U.K.

Risk Factors Are High for Heart Disease

Bernal-Lopez and colleagues evaluated a random sample of the population of Malaga City. Participants ages 18 to 80 took part in a clinical interview that included a physical exam and gathering of social and demographic information. Also a blood sample was drawn.

The researchers found that cardiovascular disease risk factors were high. For example:

Overall, nearly 30% had three or more modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, abdominal obesity, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, or a cholesterol problem.

When the researchers focused just on those participants above age 50, they found nearly 83% had unhealthy levels of belly fat and more than 84% were either overweight or obese.

When the researchers looked at the younger participants ages 18 to 29, they found that 35.5% were overweight or obese, which they termed ''worrying."

Some of the dismal findings, the researchers write, have to do with the city they studied. Residents there are less active than residents in other areas of the country, and their lower educational level was linked with higher rates of smoking, obesity, and cholesterol problems.

Spain vs. U.K., U.S.

In the editorial, Wierzbicki points out that the data seem to dispel the healthy Mediterranean image. The data from Spain, he writes, ''are worse than those in a UK self-selected cohort that underwent CVD risk screening in 2008 and in the UK National Health Survey for England."

The new data, he writes, ''shows parallels with the USA where the highest burdens of cardiometabolic risk are found in the sunniest southern states."

So why does the myth of people from Mediterranean countries all being healthy persist? Wierzbicki points to the original data on the Mediterranean diet, conducted decades ago when lifestyles were different and people were more likely to be engaged in manual work.

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