Cardiovascular crisis? Only 1 in 5 Americans has excellent heart health

DALLAS — A staggering 80 percent of the U.S. population has either low or moderate cardiovascular health — meaning just one in five people have a heart that’s in excellent shape, according to a new study.

Using the American Heart Association’s new Life’s Essential 8 checklist, researchers discovered that just 19.6 percent of the country has a cardiovascular health score which the checklist considers “high.”

Meanwhile, the study of more than 23,400 U.S. adults and children found 62.5 percent only have “moderate” cardiovascular health and 17.9 percent have “low” cardiovascular health.

How does the checklist measure heart health?

The Life’s Essential 8 looks at eight essential components that combine to give someone ideal heart and brain health. The measures include diet, physical activity, nicotine exposure, sleep duration, body mass index, blood lipids, blood glucose, and blood pressure. The new scale is an upgrade from the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7, which did not measure sleep health.

Using a scale of 0 to 100, a score of 100 means someone has the highest or healthiest cardiovascular health score. Scores under 50 fall into the “low” cardiovascular health range, while scores between 50 and 79 indicate “moderate” heart health. Anything over 80 indicates “high” cardiovascular health. According to the new study, less than 20 percent of America reached this healthy standard.

“These data represent the first look at the cardiovascular health of the U.S. population using the AHA’s new Life’s Essential 8 scoring algorithm,” says lead study author Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, president of the American Heart Association, in a media release. “Overall, the cardiovascular health of the U.S. population is suboptimal, and we see important differences across age and sociodemographic groups. Analyses like this can help policy makers, communities, clinicians and the public to understand the opportunities to intervene to improve and maintain optimal cardiovascular health across the life course.”

The findings come from health information from U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys completed between 2013 and 2018. The survey included roughly 9,900 children under the age of 19.

Americans are stuck in the 60s

Overall, the average American adult only scored 64.7 on the Life’s Essential 8 checklist. Children scored 65.5 out of 100. For kids, the checklist adjusted the scores to fit the age-related differences in diet, physical activity, and BMI.

Women scored slightly higher (67) than adult men (62.5), with both groups posting their lowest scores in diet, physical activity, and BMI categories. In general, the scores also dipped lower as adults got older.

When looking at the differences between the country’s racial and ethnic groups, the study finds Asian Americans have the best average cardiovascular health scores. Non-Hispanic White individuals had the second-highest health scores, with Hispanics (not including Mexicans), Mexicans, and Non-Hispanic Black individuals following in that order.

Concerningly, children’s diet scores had an average of just 40.6 and a miniscule 0.45 percent of the entire study group achieved a perfect score of 100.

The findings are published in Circulation, the American Heart Association’s flagship, peer-reviewed journal.