Diet and exercise aren't the only culprits for America's cardiovascular problem. The investigators found that 21 percent of adult men and about 17 percent of adult women still smoke. And, 18 percent of high school kids are smokers, according to the report.
High cholesterol levels affect almost 14 percent of American adults, and one-third of Americans have high blood pressure. Just over 8 percent of people in the United States have been diagnosed with diabetes, the report noted.
"Somewhere along the line, we lost our understanding of what it means to be healthy," Steinbaum said. "These findings are reflective of the life we're living, of [eating] fast, processed cheap foods."
But, Steinbaum added that she's seen plenty of success in her office. "I've seen people take ownership of their issues and change once they realize that if they can take care of themselves, they don't have to be sick. Now we need to figure out how to personalize public health initiatives," she said.
The AHA report recommends working with health care systems to reward providers who help their patients improve their behaviors and their health. It also suggests working with educators to support healthy diets and exercise for children. Employers and insurers can offer wellness programs and cover preventive services. In communities, the AHA recommends ensuring green spaces are available for physical activity, and that there is access to healthy foods.
But what can individuals do? Steinbaum said if you're a smoker, quitting smoking will have the biggest and most immediate impact on your heart health.
Both Steinbaum and Ong suggested starting with small steps. "Just go out for a walk. It's a simple thing that can make a difference. If you can't get out for a walk, even standing instead of sitting is better for you," Ong said.
All rights reserved