Just One in Eight Americans Is Metabolically Healthy

Having good metabolic health is important, not least because it reduces our risk of developing serious conditions such as Type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other health issues.

However, a new study published in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders found that just one in eight Americans is achieving optimal metabolic health—an “alarmingly low” proportion, according to researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In the latest paper, optimal metabolic health was defined as having just the right levels of five factors, including blood pressure, blood glucose, triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (otherwise known as "good" cholesterol) and waist circumference.

In an effort to understand how many adults were at a high risk of chronic disease, the team examined data collected from 8,721 adults in the United States between 2009 and 2016 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

They found that only 12.2 percent of the individuals sampled were metabolically healthy, which is equivalent to around 27.3 million people if this proportion is applied to the entire adult population.

GettyImages-514719842 Just one in eight Americans is metabolically healthy. Having good metabolic health is important, not least because it reduces our risk of developing serious health conditions. iStock

Furthermore, the researchers found that those who were more physically active, female, younger, more educated or nonsmokers tended to be more metabolically healthy. On the flip side, participants who were non-Hispanic black or who had a higher body mass index were less likely to be metabolically healthy. In fact, the data showed that less than 1 percent of adults who are considered obese were 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," Joana Araujo, first author of the study, said in a statement.

"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 said.

It is important to note that the study does not address whether Americans are becoming more or less metabolically healthy. However, as risk factors such as obesity continue to increase, a decline in metabolic health may be expected, Araujo told Newsweek.

Furthermore, the study is limited by the fact that the list of sociodemographic and lifestyle factors examined is not extensive. As such, other factors that are unaccounted for may be having an effect on metabolic health.

Nevertheless, this study provides "the most updated data on optimal metabolic health in American adults and has implications for public health planning," Araujo said. "Stronger efforts are needed in terms of lifestyle interventions to support improvements in the optimal metabolic health of the population."

The researchers say that the next step is to investigate further how the risk factors for certain diseases develop both in adults of normal weight and heavier individuals.

This article has been updated to include additional comments from Joana Araujo.

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