"A large proportion of Canadians are in poor cardiovascular health, and the overall trend has not changed in the past decade," senior author Dr. Jack Tu of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and the Schulich Heart Center, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, said in a statement. "There is an urgent need to improve the heart health of Canadians."
The team of researchers developed the Cardiovascular Health in Ambulatory Care Research Team health index, which measures the ideal health behaviors and factors for optimal heart health. They looked at data on 464,883 people age 12 and older who participated in the Canadian Community Health Survey in which people answered questions about their health, health activities and use of healthcare services from 2003 to 2011.
The study participants were categorized into two groups: adults age 20 and older and youth age 12 to 19. Adults received scores ranging from worst (0) to best (6), and youth received scores between (0) worst and 4 (best). Ideal heart health was defined as a score of either 6 on the adult index or 4 on the youth index.
The study looked at six ideal heart health behaviors and factors:
-- Overweight/obesity: body mass index less than 25; age- and sex-specific cut-offs for youth.
-- Physical activity: for adults, at least 30 minutes of walking per day; for youth, at least 1 hour of walking or 20 minutes running/jogging each day.
-- Fruit and vegetable consumption: at least five times a day.
-- Hypertension: no high blood pressure.
-- Diabetes: no diabetes.
Over the course of the study period, more people were eating fruits and vegetables at least five or more times a day, there was a trend toward increasing physical activity and smoking decreased each year. However, there were increasing trends of overweight/obesity, hypertension and diabetes in adults and overweight/obesity in youth.
Women had better heart health scores than men and were three times more likely to be in ideal heart health between the ages of 40-49 than men.
The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found 90 percent of Canadians have at least one heart health risk factor that could be modified by addressing behaviors that can affect cardiac risk.
"Up to 80 percent of premature heart disease is preventable," the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada said.