Obesity and Heart Disease—Good News and Bad News

Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news? I’ll start with the bad news and finish with the good so that you end up with some hope in your heart.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recently published their “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistical Update 2013” in the journal Circulation. In 2010 the AHA set a goal to improve cardiovascular health and reduce heart disease and stroke deaths by 20 percent by the year 2020. But the AHA reports that heart health may only improve by 6 percent if the current trend continues. Here are some highlights (more like lowlights) from the AHA paper:

  • More adults over age 20 are obese than normal or underweight.
  • Over 68 percent of adults over 20 are overweight or obese.
  • Almost 32 percent of children aged 2–19 are overweight or obese.
  • About one-third of adults report no physical activity.
  • Fully 13.8 percent of adults have high cholesterol.
  • Thirty-three percent of adults have high blood pressure.
  • About 8 percent of adults have diagnosed diabetes, 8 percent more have undiagnosed diabetes, and 38.2 percent have prediabetes.

I talk about these last three bullets in my new book and PBS show, Heart of Perfect Health. These risk factors are a sign that you have silent inflammation, the underlying cause of heart disease and its related risk factors. Quell silent inflammation and you can prevent, and even reverse, heart disease.

The AHA has plans for improvement, stating, “As the leader in the fight against heart disease and stroke, we are taking a more aggressive and innovative approach, including taking some pages from the playbooks of the public health sector.” They plan to work more with healthcare systems, insurers, and the education community, as well as by building worksite wellness programs and improved access to healthier foods and green space for physical activity. Let’s hope they can make up for lost time—America’s health depends on it.

Now for the good news.

Childhood obesity seems to be decreasing in a few cities for the first time after 30 years of continual increase, according to a recent New York Times report. That’s right—New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Anchorage, and Kearney, Nebraska have all reported a drop in childhood obesity. The state of Mississippi also reported a drop, but only among white students.

Experts are hesitant to draw any major conclusions this early. “I’d like to see another year of measurement before I go out and party over this,” stated Mary Currier, Mississippi’s state health officer. But some are hopeful that this is a sign of what’s to come. “I think we are beginning to turn the tide with the many things that have gone on now for a decade,” stated Donald F. Schwartz, MD, Philadelphia’s city health commissioner. Philadelphia’s school district has made a number of important nutritional changes that experts think are beginning to show results. They shut down deep fryers in school cafeterias, removed sugary drinks from vending machines, set new snack guidelines, and increased nutritional education.

I truly hope that this trend continues. The health of our children depends on it. After all, obese children are more likely to be obese adults. If we can teach them about the importance of healthy food and exercise at a young age, they will be set up for a lifetime of better health. What better gift to give them than that?

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