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Young at Heart? Most Americans Aren't, CDC Research Finds

Mary K. Caffrey
The difference between "heart age" and chronological age indicates risk of events like heart attacks and strokes, and could motivate younger patients to improve unhealthy lifestyles.
Your heart may be aging faster than you are, especially if you have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, you are overweight, or you smoke cigarettes.

In fact, 3 out of 4 adults in the United States have a “heart age” that exceeds their actual age, according to the CDC, which sounded the alarm this week about lifestyle factors that put people at risk for heart attacks and strokes.

Research released as part of the Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report, using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, found that the average predicted heart “age” for adult men was 7.8 years older than their chronological age, and for women it was 5.4 years older. The data covered adults aged 30 to 74 years.

Differences by race, socioeconomic group, and geography were significant. Excess heart age was greatest among African-American men and women. The state with the lowest excess heart age was Utah, while state with the highest was Mississippi—which also leads the nation in rates of diabetes.

The “heart age” concept was developed in 2008 during the Framingham Heart Study to help predict a person’s risk of having a cardiovascular disease event, which may not be evident from other risk factors. The idea is to motivate younger patients to adopt healthier lifestyle habits while they still have time to make meaningful changes.

From a population of 236,101 men and 342,424 women, the mean weighted chronological ages were 47.8 and 47.9 years, respectively. The corresponding heart ages were 55.6 and 53.3, respectively. Among men, African-Americans had the highest differential from the mean score at 58.7 years, followed by Hispanics (55.7 years), whites (55.3 years) and other races (54.7 years). For women, the differentials were: African Americans, 58.9 years; Hispanics, 53.5 years; whites, 52.5 years; and others, 52.3 years. Excess heart age increased with chronological age and decreased with education level and household income.

The 5 highest states for excess heart age for men were Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia, Alabama, and Kentucky; for women, the top 5 were Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, and West Virginia. Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all were among the states with the highest rates of uninsured; however, a recent Gallup Poll found that Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia ranked first, second, and fourth in states with the largest drops in uninsured. All 3 expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana did not.

Reference

Yang Q, Zhong Y, Ritchey M, et al. Vital signs: predicted heart age and racial disparities in heart age among US adults at the state level [published online September 1, 2015]. MMWR 2015; http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/wk/mm64e0901.pdf.

 
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