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Nearly Half of U.S. Adults Have Heart Risk Factors

High blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes now widespread, CDC survey finds

MONDAY, April 26 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly half of all American adults have either high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, each a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular problems, a new government survey finds.

The latest report on the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999-2006 shows that 45 percent of those questioned in the survey had at least one of the three risk factors: 30.5 percent with high blood pressure, 26 percent with high blood cholesterol levels and 9.9 percent with diabetes.

About one in eight adults -- 13 percent -- had two of the conditions and 3 percent had all three, the survey found. These rates were consistently higher among blacks.

What's even more alarming is that "15 percent of the population is unaware that they have one or more of these conditions," said survey author Cheryl D. Fryar, a health statistician with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That report is the latest in a nonstop pulse-taking effort by the CDC, which has adults answer a questionnaire about their health status and then performs physical examinations and blood tests.

The latest NHANES results were not particularly surprising, Fryar said. While the new report doesn't give trends over time, other work shows that blood cholesterol levels actually have dropped slightly because of the introduction of cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins, she noted.

"For hypertension [high blood pressure], there has been no significant change from 1999 to 2006, and the prevalence of diabetes has increased slightly," Fryar said.

Blacks had a particularly high incidence of hypertension, 42.5 percent, compared to 29.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 26.1 percent of Mexican-Americans. High blood cholesterol was more common among non-Hispanic whites (26.9 percent) than among blacks (21.5 percent) and Mexican-Americans (21.8 percent), while diabetes was more common among blacks (14.6 percent) and Mexican-Americans (15.3 percent) than among non-Hispanic whites (8.3 percent), according to the report.

The percentage of people who had one or more risk factors and were unaware of it was consistent across the three ethnic categories, the survey found.

The CDC survey doesn't attempt to learn the reason why the incidence of these major risk factors is so high, Fryar said.

Dr. Clyde W. Yancy, medical director of the Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute at Baylor University Medical Center, and president of the American Heart Association, thinks he knows the reason: obesity.

"The burden of risk is directly related to the burden of obesity," Yancy said. "Obesity is directly related to high blood pressure, directly related to diabetes, directly related to an abnormal lipid profile."

And with 60 percent of adult Americans and 30 percent of younger Americans overweight or obese, the burden threatens to become worse, he said.

While the message about obesity and what causes it -- lack of exercise, poor diet, overeating -- is sent repeatedly, "people don't get it," Yancy said. "They are putting us at the risk of having a generation of Americans that has worse health than the previous generation, which has never happened before," he said.

The CDC report is "a call to arms," Yancy said. "Targeting obesity should now be on the top of the radar screen for everybody."

More information

Hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes are among the cardiovascular risk factors listed by the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Cheryl Fryar, M.S.P.H., health statistician, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bethesda, Md.; Clyde W. Yancy, M.D., medical director, Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute, Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas; April 26, 2010, report, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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