UNC Study Finds 'Alarmingly Low' Metabolic Health In Americans

Dec 26, 2018

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health
Credit Gillings School of Global Public Health / UNC

It's part of the zeitgeist to joke that Americans aren't healthy. But new research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health puts an exclamation point on just how true that is.

The new study found that just one in eight Americans – a paltry 12 percent – are metabolically healthy, a figure the researchers called "alarmingly low."

Poor metabolic health leaves people more vulnerable to developing Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other serious health issues.

"The study fills a gap," said Joana Araujo, a postdoctoral research associate in nutrition and the study's first author. "Based on the data, few Americans are achieving metabolic health, which is quite alarming and should spur renewed attention to population-based interventions."

The data showed that being more physically active, female, younger, more educated and a nonsmoker were factors associated with being more metabolically healthy. Being non-Hispanic black or having a higher body mass index meant people were less likely to be metabolically healthy.

"We also looked at how health-related behaviors might play into metabolic health – and how the proportion of people who are metabolically healthy changes when BMI, physical activity or smoking are higher or lower," Araujo said. "For example, less than one percent of obese adults are metabolically healthy. On the other hand, people who exercise more appear to have higher levels of metabolic health."

The study, "Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2016," was published online Nov. 28 in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders.