This is U.S.: Just 12 percent of American adults are metabolically healthy, study finds

CHAPEL HILL, N. C. — The prevalence of what doctors consider good metabolic health is shockingly low in American adults, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health say that just 12 percent of the country’s adult population is considered metabolically healthy. That means a vast portion of the population is at greater risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, or other dangerous health conditions over time.

The five factors identified as indicators of good or bad metabolic health are: blood glucose, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference. If adults can maintain optimal levels of these indicators without medication, they are deemed metabolically healthy.

“The study fills a gap. 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,” explains Joana Araujo, postdoctoral research associate in nutrition and first author, in a news release.

According to Araujo’s calculations, only about one in eight Americans meet those standards for all five factors.

Araujo and her team studied data from 8,721 Americans between 2009 and 2016 who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 12.2 percent of those surveyed were metabolically healthy, or about 27.3 million American adults, if the ratio is extrapolated to the entire US adult population.

The research found that people, particularly women, who were more physically active, did not smoke, and had a higher education, were more likely to meet all five factors.

“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, less than a high school education, were not physically active and were current smokers,” she says. “Our findings should spur renewed attention to population-based interventions and widely accessible strategies to promote healthier lifestyles.”

The full study was published November 27, 2018 in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders.

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