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Feb 09, 2011

Studies Paint Mixed Picture of World's Health

Heart disease is a main concern for both the U.S. and world.

It’s not a pretty picture. In many parts of the world—especially the United States—people just keep getting fatter.

Three new studies show that almost twice as many people are seriously overweight today as in 1980. Worldwide, that means that more than a half billion adults are obese.

The studies were published in an online edition of The Lancet. They reported on the health of millions of people in 199 countries around the globe.

Obesity Increases Risk of Heart Disease

Being obese puts people at risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as arthritis and diabetes. Every year about 3 million people die from illnesses caused by obesity.

Researchers defined obesity as a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30 kg/m2. BMI measures both height and weight to figure out if someone is overweight. For example, a woman who is 5-feet, 5-inches tall and weighs 180 pounds would have a BMI of 30. A man who is 6 feet tall and weighs 221 pounds would also have a BMI of 30.

In the United States, the average BMI is more than 28 kg/m2.

The good news from the studies is that blood pressure and cholesterol levels have come down since 1980. But that’s just an average. In some countries blood pressure and cholesterol levels are climbing.

Blood Pressure Out of Control

Overall, nearly 1 billion people around the world have uncontrolled high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. Every year it causes 7 million deaths around the world.

Researchers defined uncontrolled high blood pressure as above 140/90 mmHg.

In the United States, doctors have been successful in reducing average blood pressure levels to nearly normal levels. A normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg.

Researchers said blood pressure is lower because of blood pressure medications, and because people eat less salt and more fruits and vegetables.

Improvements in Cholesterol in US

Cholesterol levels have dropped a little since 1980, but not in all countries.

In the United States and other wealthy countries, cholesterol levels have edged down since 1980. However, they still average about 202 mg/dL, which makes them some of the highest in the world.

In Japan, China and Singapore cholesterol levels are rising. Researchers said that was probably because people in these countries are eating more meat and animal fats.

The three studies show how important it is to eat a heart-healthy diet, have regular check-ups and take medications to treat illnesses if needed.

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