Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Deaths from heart disease and stroke continue to decline nationally, even as more and more people are living in poor health, a new report has found.
The American Heart Association's Heart & Stroke Statistics - 2020 Update, published Wednesday, found that significant gains in heart health made over the past decade or so have slowed, indicating that messages regarding healthy diet and lifestyle choices may be falling on deaf ears.
The report also notes that people are choosing to avoid exercise and eat less healthy foods, starting at a younger age, raising concerns over long-term health of the general population.
"We know people are living longer thanks in part to nearly a century of dedicated efforts from volunteers, staff and many invaluable supporters joining the American Heart Association in our fight again heart disease and stroke, leading to improvements in disease control and prevention, advancements in medical treatments and improved lifestyle behaviors," American Heart Association president Robert A. Harrington said in a press release. "Unfortunately, not all those years are healthy ones as the effects of chronic illnesses are increasingly impacting the quality of life of people at a much younger age than in the past."
The report highlights that obesity rates are on the rise in children and adults -- with nearly 40 percent of adults and 18.5 percent of young people in the United States now obese.
Perhaps not surprisingly, physical activity rates are also "abysmally" low among youth, the AHA notes, with less than one third of American students taking part in daily physical education classes and only 26 percent meeting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations regarding physical activity.
Meanwhile, the prevalence of diabetes nationally increased approximately 130 percent for males and 120 percent for females between 1990 and 2017.
While cigarette smoking in the U.S. is down among adults and at all-time lows for teens, more and more young people are vaping, and the global use of tobacco continues to climb -- in 2015, there were more than 933 million smokers worldwide, the AHA said. At least 80 percent of the world's smokers, most of whom are male, live in low- and middle-income countries.
In a Harris Poll recently conducted for the AHA, 93 percent of respondents agreed that living a long, healthy life is important. Less than half of the respondents -- 49 percent -- strongly agreed their behavior influences their health and well-being, however, and only one-third strongly agreed that their environment influences or supports their health choices.
Over the past decade, the AHA said, key factors that support ideal cardiovascular health have seen some positive movement across the U.S., with studies reporting that adults are getting more active and people are eating healthier, smoking cigarettes less and better controlling their cholesterol.
The good news is offset by major setbacks in other critical areas, especially among youth, a trend that puts upcoming generations at even higher risk for facing major health issues at younger ages, the AHA added.
"We need to make healthy choices the easy ones, make healthcare accessible and affordable and we need to get better at stopping preventable diseases before they start," said Harrington, the Arthur L. Bloomfield Professor of Medicine and Chairman of the Department of Medicine at Stanford University. "Sometimes parents are more worried about whether they can feed their children anything, much less whether it's healthy or not. If you're living with high blood pressure, you shouldn't have to worry about choosing between whether to pay rent or buy your medicine."
In a presidential advisory published in the journal Circulation to coincide with the report's release, the AHA has set new national and global "2030 Impact Goals" to encourage people to live healthier for more years of their life.
"Much of this will be an expansion of efforts already underway with many committed collaborators, but it will be critical to bring in new ideas and resources to connect the collective vision with the creativity and innovation needed to make real change," Harrington said.