Only 12 percent of American adults are metabolically healthy, study finds

November 28, 2018, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The prevalence of metabolic health in American adults is 'alarmingly low,' even among people who are normal weight, according to a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health. Only one in eight Americans is achieving optimal metabolic health. This carries serious implications for public health since poor metabolic health leaves people more vulnerable to developing Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other serious health issues.

This study, published Nov. 28 in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, presents the most updated U.S. data on metabolic , which is defined as having optimal levels of five factors: , triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference, without the need for medications.

For the study, researchers examined National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 8,721 people in the United States between 2009 and 2016 to determine how many adults are at low versus high risk for chronic disease. Data revealed that only 12.2 percent of American adults are metabolically healthy, which means that only 27.3 million adults are meeting recommended targets for cardiovascular risk factors management.

In the last decade the thresholds for common health measures, for example those that are used to determine if someone has high blood pressure or blood sugar levels, have been lowered by respected professional medical societies. These more restrictive guidelines may mean that a smaller proportion of people are meeting the optimal levels for the cardiovascular risk factors.

"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," said Joana Araujo, postdoctoral research associate in nutrition and the study's first author. "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. Our findings should spur renewed attention to population-based interventions and widely accessible strategies to promote healthier lifestyles."

The data showed that being more physically active, female, younger, more educated and a nonsmoker were factors associated with being more metabolically healthy. Whereas, being non-Hispanic black or having a higher body mass index meant people were less likely to be metabolically healthy.

The research team looked at how health-related behaviors might play into metabolic health and how the proportion of people who are metabolically healthy changes when BMI, physical activity or smoking rates are higher or lower. They found that less than 1 percent of obese adults are metabolically healthy. On the other hand, people who exercise more appear to have higher levels of metabolic health.

The authors call for further study to understand the mechanisms of risk factor development, with a focus on people of as well as heavier .

Explore further: Poor metabolic health in some normal-weight women may increase risk for colorectal cancer

More information: Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, DOI: 10.1089/met.2018.0105

Related Stories

Poor metabolic health in some normal-weight women may increase risk for colorectal cancer

February 1, 2017
Even though poor metabolic health is usually associated with obesity, 30 percent of normal-weight adults are believed to be metabolically unhealthy worldwide, according to Liang.

Study: Obesity alone does not increase risk of death

July 12, 2018
Researchers at York University's Faculty of Health have found that patients who have metabolic healthy obesity, but no other metabolic risk factors, do not have an increased rate of mortality.

Metabolically 'healthy' obesity still linked to higher risk of cardiovascular disease

May 31, 2018
Women who are obese and who have been metabolically healthy for decades are still at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to metabolically healthy women of normal weight, according to an observational ...

Heart disease may only be a matter of time for those with healthy obesity

April 24, 2018
People who are 30 pounds or more overweight may want to slim down a bit even if they don't have high blood pressure or any other heart disease risk, according to scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Study shows so-called 'healthy obesity' is harmful to cardiovascular health

September 11, 2017
Clinicians are being warned not to ignore the increased cardiovascular health risks of those who are classed as either 'healthy obese' or deemed to be 'normal weight' but have metabolic abnormalities such as diabetes.

Metabolically healthy obesity does not guarantee clean bill of health

November 20, 2013
Obese people who are currently metabolically healthy face a higher risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to new research accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical ...

Recommended for you

A co-worker's rudeness can affect your sleep—and your partner's, study finds

December 14, 2018
Rudeness. Sarcastic comments. Demeaning language. Interrupting or talking over someone in a meeting. Workplace incivilities such as these are becoming increasingly common, and a new study from Portland State University and ...

A holiday gift to primary care doctors: Proof of their time crunch

December 14, 2018
The average primary care doctor needs to work six more hours a day than they already do, in order to make sure their patients get all the preventive and early-detection care they want and deserve, a new study finds.

Teens get more sleep with later school start time, researchers find

December 12, 2018
When Seattle Public Schools announced that it would reorganize school start times across the district for the fall of 2016, the massive undertaking took more than a year to deploy. Elementary schools started earlier, while ...

Large restaurant portions a global problem, study finds

December 12, 2018
A new multi-country study finds that large, high-calorie portion sizes in fast food and full service restaurants is not a problem unique to the United States. An international team of researchers found that 94 percent of ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Yes please to yoghurt and cheese: The new improved Mediterranean diet

December 11, 2018
Thousands of Australians can take heart as new research from the University of South Australia shows a dairy-enhanced Mediterranean diet will significantly increase health outcomes for those at risk of cardiovascular disease ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

katesisco
not rated yet Nov 28, 2018
So, being a non-smoking female in college makes one metabolically healthy.
The study might just as well have said low stress females from a protected environment are the best chance for a healthy life. That actually fits the data. So if you are from a long term marriage with parents secure enough to send you to college, your chances are good for a healthy start in your earning career.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 28, 2018
It's sorta funny that even in the image of 'healthy' people for this article at least one is overweight.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.