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HEALTH

Americans Getting Fatter and Sicker

Congress and the Obama administration may be struggling to find ways to save money on health care costs, but they are fighting even more of a losing battle than expected, heart experts said on Wednesday. Two studies presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando show Americans are getting even fatter and less healthy.

One team projects that by 2020, more than 80 percent of U.S. men and more than 70 percent of women will be overweight or obese, and more than half will either have full-blown diabetes or be well on the way to developing it.

 

The government has set a goal for the nation as a whole to increase heart health by 20 percent by 2020, but there is no way that is going to happen, said Mark Huffman of Northwestern University.

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Huffman’s team used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 1988 to 2008 to project weight and diabetes trends. They predict that in 2020, 83 percent of men and 72 percent of women will be overweight or obese. Right now, 72 percent of men and 63 percent of women are overweight or obese as calculated using Body Mass Index.

 

And now, 62 percent of men and 43 percent of women have high blood sugar or diabetes. In 2020, this will grow to 77 percent of men and 53 percent of women. Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death, killing 71,000 Americans a year. Heart disease and stroke, the No. 1 and No. 3 causes of death, are strongly linked to obesity.

“To increase overall heart health by 20 percent, American adults would need to rapidly reverse these unhealthy trends -- starting today,” Huffman said in a statement.

A second study presented at the meeting suggests that today’s teenagers are likely to die of heart disease at younger ages than adults today.

That’s bad, given that heart disease is already the No. 1 killer in the United States, killing 616,000 people a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

“We are all born with ideal cardiovascular health, but right now we are looking at the loss of that health in youth,” said Donald Lloyd-Jones, also of Northwestern. “Their future is bleak.”

His team looked at data from more than 5,500 children and teens, and found many already have serious risk factors for heart disease such as a lack of exercise, high blood sugar, and being overweight.

Lloyd-Jones said that for the first time, there is an increase in death rates from heart disease among younger adults age 35 to 44, especially women.

“After four decades of declining deaths from heart disease, we are starting to lose the battle again,” Lloyd-Jones said.

But a third study presented on Wednesday found that if people do everything they are supposed to do to help their hearts, they lower the risk of cancer, also -- by as much as 40 percent.

The seven measures include a healthy diet, exercise, not smoking, staying at a healthy body weight, and keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar at desired levels. Just doing one of these things lowered the risk of cancer by 20 percent; five to seven of them cut the risk by almost 40 percent. 

“It’s a big bonus that a healthy lifestyle not only protects you from cardiovascular disease but also helps you avoid cancer,” said Northwestern’s Laura Rasmussen-Torvik, whose team studied 13,360 volunteers.

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