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Young in U.S. Pay No Attention to Stroke Risk

Survey Shows Most Young Americans Mistakenly Think They Have Healthy Lifestyles
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WebMD Health News

Young couple eating fast food

May 2, 2011 -- According to the American Heart Association, someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds in the U.S.  Yet most Americans between 18 and 24 are dangerously naive about their health and assume they are healthy even though they eat too much fast food, drink too many sugary and alcoholic beverages, and engage in other behaviors that put them on the road to stroke.

That conclusion is based on a survey of 1,248 Americans ages 18 to 44 who were asked about their health and beliefs about proper behaviors and their risks for suffering a stroke. The survey was conducted by the American Heart Association-American Stroke Association.

“This survey shows the dangerous disconnect that many young Americans have about how their behaviors affect their risks for stroke and other cardiovascular diseases,” says neurologist Ralph Sacco, MD, in a news release. Sacco is president of the American Heart Association-American Stroke Association.

“Starting health behaviors at a young age is critical to entering middle age in good shape,” he says. “The investment you make in your health now will have a large payoff as you age. We want everyone -- especially young people -- to strive to avoid stroke, which can affect anyone at any age.”

Unrealistic Expectations

The survey reveals that many people are not just naive about health, but also unrealistic in expectations. For example, people ages 18-24 said they want to live to age 98.

However, a third of those questioned didn’t think engaging in healthy behaviors now could affect their future risk of stroke; 18% could not identify a single stroke risk factor.

Some key findings of the survey:

  • 43% of people ages 18-24 say they engage in healthy behaviors. This percentage declines as age increases.
  • Less than half of these young people say they are likely to engage in regular physical activity.
  • Only about half of all respondents strive to obtain or maintain a healthy weight.
  • 29% of people ages 18-24 say they are likely to eat fast food, and the percentage stays about the same through age 44.
  • Only a quarter of those ages 18-24 say they’re likely to eat recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. This increases in the 35- to 44-year-old group, but only to a third.
  • 40% of those ages 18-24 say they are likely to limit sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • 76% of people ages 18-24 say they are likely to limit alcohol consumption. This increases to 84% in the group age 35-44.
  • About 20% of respondents said they were likely to smoke.

Start Healthy Behaviors Now

People who make healthy lifestyle choices reduce their risk of having a stroke by as much as 80%, compared with those who keep on doing things that are unhealthy.

The American Heart Association says it’s important for people to eat diets high in fruits and vegetables, to exercise often, not smoke, and not drink too much when it comes to both alcoholic beverages and sugar-sweetened liquids.

Sacco says young adults need to understand the connection between healthy behaviors and healthy brains and hearts. Unless attitudes change, he says, “we could be looking at an increase in stroke diagnosis and deaths within the next 10 to 20 years.”

Preventing stroke, he says, takes both knowledge and effort.

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