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U.S. Heart Health: Lots of Room for Improvement

New Report: Heart Disease Deaths Down, but Obesity, Inactivity Threaten Progress
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7 Heart Health Factors: How Do You Stack Up?

Besides not having a diagnosis of blood vessel or heart disease, the American Heart Association considers seven factors important to heart health:

This year's report found that 94% of U.S. adults have at least one of these factors at ''poor'' levels. And 38% of adults score poorly on three or more. Half of U.S. children ages 12 to 19 meet four or fewer of the factors.

Heart Health Report: Lifestyle Has an 'Enormous' Impact, Says Doctor

"This is a wake-up call," says P.K. Shah, MD, director of cardiology at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. He reviewed the findings but was not involved in the study.

The decline in stroke deaths is among the best news, he says. That is due, he says, to better management of stroke patients. The drop in overall death from heart disease and other vascular disorders is also good news.

''The bad news is we still have a September 11th-type tragedy occurring every 24 hours," he says. Heart disease and stroke claims 2,200 Americans each day -- one death every 39 seconds.

The lifestyle issues -- overeating, not exercising, and not maintaining a healthy weight -- threaten the advances, Shah agrees. He worries that our bad habits could wipe out the potential benefits of medical advances within 15 or 20  years.

"The key here is, we aren't doing enough on the front of lifestyle modification," Shah says.

Robert Michler, MD, surgeon-in-chief and co-director of the Montefiore Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, agrees. "What needs to be learned from this is: very simply, that lifestyle cannot be eliminated from one's heart  health. It has an enormous impact on one's health."

The economic climate results in great pressure on people and their ability to follow healthy habits, he says. People are also bombarded with offers to ''supersize'' their meal, he says. "People have lost perspective on what is appropriate body size and meal size," Michler says.

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