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CAT | Heart Health

woman-holding-chestAmericans need to be more vigilant when it comes to heart health. Despite nationwide prevention initiatives like My Life Check® from the American Heart Association, a new study shows that while older adults have seen a more than 20 percent decline in heart attacks, rates are holding steady among young and middle-aged adults in the Unites States—and women especially are at risk.

Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine recently reviewed more than 230,000 health records from 2001 to 2010 and found no change in heart attack hospitalization rates for adults between the ages of 30 to 45. What’s more, the risk of death from a heart attack was notably higher among women, who typically have more health problems that can lead to heart attacks, including diabetes and high blood pressure. Women also take longer to recover from a heart attack than their male counterparts.

So why this age group in particular? Researchers say that even as improvements in treatment and prevention have helped American seniors improve their overall heart health, a nationwide rise in obesity and diabetes among young adults has counteracted those positive strides. Without these “offsetting risks,” lead author Dr. Aakriti Gupta believes they may have seen a decrease in heart attacks across all age groups.

This study and others like it highlight the need for improvements in heart health education and awareness nationwide, beginning with addressing the risks of heart disease and heart attack with younger patients (many of whom still believe those risks are associated with old age). Prevention efforts—especially among women—should focus on detecting early warning signs such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol and addressing them immediately. Changes in diet and lifestyle also play a critical role in improving and maintaining heart health.

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food-labelEarlier this year we blogged about some upcoming changes to the Nutrition Facts labels found on packaged foods and beverages. Among the proposed changes are clearer information about fats and sugar, updated daily values and serving size requirements, and a new design that would highlight certain elements deemed significant to public health. But is it enough? Many health officials say no.

The Associated Press recently spoke with former FDA Commissioner David Kessler and former CDC official William H. Dietz, who voiced their concerns that the new labels still won’t be enough to help consumers decide which foods are really good for them. They and other experts would like to see even more improvements, including changes to the following:

  • Nutritional Values: Even though more consumers are reading nutrition labels than ever before, experts worry they still may not have a clear enough understanding of what those labels mean or what foods they should really be eating (i.e. real food vs. processed junk). Experts would like to see the FDA offer clarity beyond just listing numbers and technical terms.
  • Ingredients Lists: How often do you just glance over those long lists of ingredients you can’t pronounce—picking out the one or two you think might be most important? Experts believe if the FDA kept it simple (for example, listing all forms of sugar as a single ingredient) it would be easier for consumers to understand just what might be ending up in their bodies.
  • Sugar Amounts (and Types): Although the proposed changes include making a distinction between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars (those added in during processing and preparation), health officials believe it’s still not enough. They want to see a daily value created for sugar to help people determine how much sugar they should really be eating on a daily basis.
  • Front Labeling: Several years back the FDA talked about making changes to the front of food packaging in addition to changing the Nutrition Facts labels, but the effort has since been put on hold. Experts agree that change is still needed and suggest highlighting the main ingredients up front, along with the total number of calories and possibly how many additional ingredients there are.

Finally, a number of health officials would like to see more context when it comes to how much of certain nutrients folks should be aiming for in their daily diets. Because it’s hard to think in percentages, experts think clearer labeling could help people determine exactly how much of a certain ingredient they are consuming and whether or not it is more than they need.

Needless to say, the food industry disagrees with many of the recommended changes and believes they provide more information than necessary. With the public comment period on the proposed changes now extended through August, it looks like only time will tell what the food labels of the future may look like.

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