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Survey finds Americans unaware of important heart health numbers



February 15, 2017
Area(s) of Interest: Patient Education 

This Heart Month, a new survey shows that few Americans know their numbers when it comes to basic risk factors for cardiovascular disease like blood pressure or cholesterol levels.


For the study, conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, researchers contacted a representative sample of 1,002 adults by phone in September 2016. The survey found that while most people know the numbers that are key to their financial wellbeing, they do not know the numbers that are key to their heart health. Nearly half (46 percent) knew their bank account balance, while only 18 percent could state their body mass index (BMI) and only 38 percent knew their blood pressure.


What Americans know (and don’t know) about blood pressure is surprising. A majority knew that uncontrolled high blood pressure could lead to a heart attack (75 percent), stroke (74 percent), heart failure (62 percent) and death (60 percent). However, fewer were aware that uncontrolled high blood pressure can also cause aneurisms (45 percent). Only four in 10 (40 percent) Americans understood that a normal blood pressure reading is less than 120 (systolic) and 80 (diastolic).


“Studies have suggested the majority of coronary artery disease events can be prevented by addressing treatable risk factors,” said Steve Nissen, M.D., chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “That means a little knowledge regarding risk factors and ‘numbers’ could go a long way to a healthy heart and avoiding future problems.”


Researchers also found that people were confused about how cholesterol levels influence the risk of heart disease. Only 12 percent of them knew screening for cholesterol should start in early adulthood, and most people incorrectly identified triglycerides as cholesterol when they are a type of fat in the blood.


Other survey findings:


  • Only one-third (34 percent) of Americans knew that fat in the stomach region (an “apple-shaped body”) is most dangerous for heart health. In addition, only 36 percent knew their waist circumference was an important factor in determining heart disease risk.

  • The survey also revealed that many Americans want to use supplements to enhance their heart health, even though there is little evidence that supplements do any good. Nearly seven in 10 (67 percent) Americans surveyed say they have taken one or more type of supplements regularly to enhance their heart health. The most commonly taken supplements are multivitamins (46 percent).

  • Many Americans don’t understand the strong connection between diabetes and heart disease. Most respondents (73 percent) didn’t realize the leading cause of death for people with diabetes is heart disease. The most popular response (35 percent) was kidney disease/failure.

  • To read the survey, click here.

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