Heart Disease a Risk Factor for Most Americans


It seems that most of us Americans now have at least a low-risk for heart disease. Many of us are at even higher risks – overweight, out-of-shape, hypertensive, or diabetic.

Earl S. Ford, MD, MPH, of the CDC's Division of Adult and Community Health at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention in Atlanta, and colleagues published a report online yesterday in Circulation, Journal of the American Heart Association which looked at data from four national surveys of adults ages 25 to 74 to estimate the proportion of Americans who have a low risk factor burden.

The researchers found that Americans considered at low-risk for heart disease now make up less than 8% of the population. The age-adjusted prevalence of low risk factor burden increased from 4.4% [in 1971 to 1975] to 10.5% [in 1988 through 1994], before decreasing to 7.5% [in the most recent national survey].


The pattern was the same for men and women. Whites were more likely to be living heart-healthy lives than were blacks except for the period from 1976 to 1980, when there was no racial difference in low-risk factor burden.

Low risk of heart disease means the person is unlikely to develop cardiovascular disease or risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This person will have a total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL and therefore not need lipid-lowering medications. This person’s blood pressure will have a systolic measurement <120 mm Hg and diastolic <80 mm Hg and therefore not need antihypertensive medications. This person will have a body mass index <25 kg/m2. This person will not be a diabetic and will not be a smoker.

The researchers suggest that a societal effort is needed to encourage healthy eating and physical activity to lower the risk factors not only for heart disease, but also for other conditions. They suggest adaptations to towns and cities that favor pedestrians and cyclists. Such initiatives should start in schools and the work place, and will require good collaboration between politicians and doctors for success.

Ford ES, et al "Trends in the Prevalence of Low Risk Factor Burden for Cardiovascular Disease Among United States Adults" Circulation 2009; 120:000-000

van Dam RM, Willett WC "Unmet Potential for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention in the United States" Circulation 2009; 120: 000-000