According to the title of this article, less than 10 percent of Americans have a low risk for heart disease.  I found that a curious number, so I clicked through to find out what their qualifiers for a low risk of heart disease is.

  • Never or former smoker;
  • Total cholesterol below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and not using cholesterol-lowering drugs;
  • Blood pressure below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) without using blood pressure-lowering medication;
  • Not overweight or obese, as reflected in a body mass index (BMI) less than 25 kg/m2; and
  • Never diagnosed with diabetes.

Did anybody catch that?  I sure did: not overweight or obese.  Now, the one main argument I’ve found for obesity being unhealthy is that you have high cholesterol and blood pressure and so forth, so isn’t obesity a redundant variable?  I’d like to know what the numbers are sans the obesity/overweight clause.

The article also points out that while we were at one point steadily moving forward in having low risk for heart disease, suddenly we’ve had a jump backwards.

  • 4.4 percent of adults had all five of the low-risk factors in NHANES I, 1971-75;
  • 5.7 percent had all five in NHANES II, 1976-1980;
  • 10.5 percent of adults rated low risk on all factors in NHANES III, 1988-94; and
  • only 7.5 percent of adults rated low risk on all factors in the 1999-2004 survey. “Until the early 90s, we were moving in a positive direction, but then it took a turn and we’re headed in a negative direction,” Ford said. “When you look at the individual factors, tobacco use is still headed in the right direction and so are cholesterol levels, although that has leveled off. The problem is that blood pressure, BMI and diabetes are all headed in the wrong direction.”

According to Wikipedia’s BMI page:

“In 1998, the U.S. National Institutes of Health brought U.S. definitions into line with World Health Organization guidelines, lowering the normal/overweight cut-off from BMI 27.8 to BMI 25. This had the effect of redefining approximately 30 million Americans, previously “healthy” to “overweight”.”

Just so we’re clear: we had a mysterious jump in heart disease risk between a 88-94 study and a 99-04 survey, and nobody points out that they changed the number of people who were considered overweight.  I mean, it’s not like it’s one of the metrics they’re using in the study.  But, really, in between those two time periods 30 million Americans got suddenly swept into the overweight (and therefore according-to-the-study high-risk) category, and that’s not even mentioned?

In a word, no.