Wake-up Call: 50% Adult Americans Face Serious Health Risk

Nearly 50 percent of all adult Americans have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes. All conditions increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Diabetics, of course, are at greater risk of having the other two conditions as well, and heart disease is one of the most common complications resulting from poor diabetes management.

A report released online Monday by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said nearly 13 percent Americans have at least two of the conditions and three percent have all three, sharply increasing their risk. Of those with at least one condition, 15 per cent have not been diagnosed.

(Diabetes affects 8.3 percent of Americans of all ages, and 11.3 percent of adults aged 20 and older, according to the National Diabetes Fact Sheet for 2011. About 27 percent of those with diabetes—7 million Americans—do not know they have the disease. Prediabetes affects a whopping 35 percent of adults aged 20 and older.)

“The number that really surprises me is the penetration of these conditions into the U.S. population,” said Dr. Clyde Yancy of Baylor University Medical Center, president of the American Heart Association. “When that number is nearly 50%, that’s a huge wake-up call.” It means there are a large number of people “who think they are healthy…but are working under a terrible misconception.”

The data come from the ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which releases new figures every two years. The survey consists of interviews conducted in participants’ homes, standardized physical examinations given to some participants and laboratory tests using blood and urine specimens.

“This report is so timely and important because it crystallizes exactly what the burden is,” Yancy said. “It tells us the challenge we now face that could stress and potentially defeat any healthcare system we could come up with.”

Personal responsibility plays a big role in creating these three health problems, he said. “This trio begins with a quartet of smoking, a junk diet, physical inactivity and obesity. Those are all things we can do something about.”

Though researchers should be able to use the new data to plan interventions, “the main thing here is for people to be aware that they have these conditions and know that lifestyle modifications and medications can control them and reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease,” said epidemiologist Cheryl D. Fryar of the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, one of the study’s authors.

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