Prevalence of metabolic syndrome in the U.S. has stabilized. Can it last?

The rate of metabolic syndrome among American adults stands at around 35%, according to a new study

As U.S. obesity rates have leveled off in recent years, one side benefit appears to be that the prevalence of metabolic syndrome has stabilized as well.

About 35% of American adults had metabolic syndrome in 2011-12, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. That was essentially the same as the 36% prevalence in 2007-08, though still higher than the 33% rate seen in 2003-04, according to a report published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.



An earlier version of this story said HDL was the "bad" kind of cholesterol.


Metabolic syndrome is a condition that increases a patient’s risk for coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes -- all chronic illnesses that may cause premature death. A diagnosis is made if a person has at least three attributes from a list that includes a large waist circumference, high levels of triglycerides, low levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind), high blood pressure and high fasting blood sugar. (For more details about the items on this list, check this page from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.) Several of these items have a large overlap with obesity.

As of 2011-12, metabolic syndrome was more common in women (37% of them had it) than men (whose prevalence was 33%). It was also more common among Latinos (39%), non-Latino whites (37%) and African Americans (36%) than among “other” racial and ethnic groups (23%).

Age was an even bigger factor. About 18% of Americans between the ages of 20 and 39 had metabolic syndrome, compared with 47% of people who were at least 60 years old, according to the study.

Two groups of Americans had the dubious distinction of having a prevalence of more than 50% -- women who were at least 60 years old and Latinos who were in that same age group.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign was that the incidence of metabolic syndrome actually fell among women between 2007-08 (when it was 39%) and 2011-12 (when it was 37%).

However, the overall prevalence of metabolic syndrome could soon resume its upward march, since the risk appears to rise along with age, the researchers noted. This is “a concerning observation given the aging U.S. population,” they wrote.

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