Despite the improvements seen in some heart disease risk factors, a survey of nearly 80,000 people showed that rates of the metabolic syndrome continued to rise both in the United States and in Europe.
The surge is driven mainly by the epidemic of obesity in the Western world, says researcher Benjamin A. Steinberg, a Sarnoff fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston."New medical treatments and improved lifestyle modification strategies are urgently needed to reverse this trend," he says.
The metabolic syndrome is a condition that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. By one definition, it requires the presence of at least three of the following risk factors: obesity, high blood pressure, high levels of a blood fat called triglycerides, low HDL "good" cholesterol, and an elevation in fasting blood sugar.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology.
The results come from the CardioMonitor Survey, an international annual polling of about 20,000 people with cardiovascular disease in the U.S. and Europe.
The survey estimates that in 1998, 61.4 million American adults were estimated to have cardiovascular disease or risk factors for coronary heart disease. That figure rose to 66.7 million in 2001 and to 67.2 million in 2004.
During the six-year period, some major gains were made in reducing the number of people with heart disease risk factors. For example:
- The percentage of people with high triglyceride levels dropped from 46% to 40%.
- The number of people with low HDL cholesterol levels decreased from 35% to 33%.
- During this time frame the use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs increased from 37% to 52%.
Yet despite these improvements, the rates of the metabolic syndrome rose from 36% to 44% during the same period.
That means the rise [in the metabolic syndrome] is primarily driven by the skyrocketing rates of obesity -- from 30% to 48% -- during the six-year period, says America Heart Association president Robert Eckel, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver.
"Although several components of the metabolic syndrome are better off, people are still much more likely to be obese," he tells WebMD. "We have to continue to target obesity to reverse these trends."
Similar trends were observed in Europe.