Public health may be compromised unless people shift their lifestyle choices from bad to better, according to new research. A recent study found that only 12% of American adults are “metabolically healthy,” and current trends raise a red flag on efforts to lower associated risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other complications.

The study, published in Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders (2018; doi:10.1089/met.2018.0105), presents updated U.S. data on metabolic health, defined as having optimal levels of triglycerides, blood glucose, blood pressure, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and waist circumference without the need for medications. Only 1 in 8 Americans is achieving optimal metabolic health, according to the study.

Researchers examined National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data gathered between 2009 and 2016 from 8,721 people in the U.S. to determine chronic disease risk levels for adults. Data revealed that only 27.3 million adults are meeting recommended targets for cardiovascular risk factors management. It should be noted that thresholds for common health measures have been lowered in the past decade, and the more restrictive guidelines may mean that a smaller percentage of people are meeting “optimal levels” for cardiovascular risk factors.

“The study fills a gap,” said Joana Araujo, postdoctoral research associate in nutrition, in a press release. “We wanted to know how many American adults really meet the guidelines for all of these risk factors and are within optimal levels for disease prevention and health. Based on the data, few Americans are achieving metabolic health. But the most disturbing finding was the complete absence of optimal metabolic health in adults who had obesity [and] less than a high school education, were not physically active and were current smokers. Our findings should spur renewed attention to population-based interventions and widely accessible strategies to promote healthier lifestyles.”

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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