New research is showing that an “alarmingly low” percentage of American adults have optimal metabolic health.

So-called metabolic health has much to do with the risk of heart and cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes — and is defined by many more criteria than the numbers on a scale.

Metabolic health is defined as having ideal levels of the following: blood sugar, (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, and waist circumference.

In  contrast, people are considered to have metabolic syndrome if they fail to meet at least three of those criteria.

A recent study published in the Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders journal entitled “Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2016,” found that 1 in 8 people — or just 12 percent — of U.S. adults have optimal metabolic health.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined data from 8,721 adults collected over a seven-year period from 2009 to 2016 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Unsurprisingly, out of the thousands of participants, those who were considered obese at the time performed the worst — with only .5 percent of the people considered to have optimal metabolic health.

More unexpectedly, however, less than a third of people with normal weight and less than 50 percent of those who were underweight were considered to be of optimal metabolic health.

Rekha Kumar, an endocrinologist at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, said of the study results in a statement, “We need to look at metabolism beyond just body weight. There has been a push to address obesity through public health measures, but this study shows us that even people who are a normal weight seem to be developing diseases that we typically correlate with obesity,” as noted by Healthline.

A further breakdown of the results shows that aspects of people’s lifestyles, as well as certain demographics, also play a role.

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“Lifestyle factors play into our health. We’re not isolated to just our numbers — we have to look at everything all together,” said double board-certified gastroenterologist Dr. Samantha Nazareth.

Joana Araujo, a postdoctoral research associate in nutrition and first author of the study, commented on the health dangers of combined risk factors.

“Most disturbing is the absence of optimal metabolic health in adults who had obesity, less than a high school education, were not physically active and were current smokers,” she said in a statement. “Stronger and more widely accessible strategies to promote healthier lifestyles are urgently warranted,” advised Araujo and colleagues.

For anyone who currently exhibits one or more of those risk factors, there is plenty to do to lower the risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

First and foremost, a healthy diet — and one that is rich in vegetables — is needed. Second, regular exercise can go a long way to help. And third, the significance of staying away from smoking should not be ignored.

Cardiovascular disease is responsible for one out of four deaths. It’s the leading cause of death in the U.S. — and smoking plays an enormous role in that.

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