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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Only one out of nearly 2,000 middle-aged Americans hits the mark for ideal heart health by passing a checklist that includes being physically active and not smoking, according to a study.
The "Simple 7" checklist released by the American Heart Association (AHA) in 2010 also includes having a healthy weight and diet as well as staying below certain thresholds for cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels
A third of all U.S. deaths are currently from heart disease, which is also the leading killer worldwide. The AHA's goal is to reduce deaths from heart disease by at least 20 percent by 2020.
"I was surprised that so few study participants met the AHA's goals, because this was a self-selected group that volunteered to participate in a study focusing on cardiovascular health," said study author Steven Reis, at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.
Reis and his team analyzed data for 1,933 middle-aged men and women in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, which includes Pittsburgh.
Of the group, a little less than half were black and two-thirds were women. Most had been to college and earned at least $40,000 a year.
Heart-healthy lifestyles were uncommon among the volunteers, even when the researchers used more forgiving criteria. Fewer than one in 10 met five or more items on the checklist, and only about two in 10 met four, according to results that appeared in "Circulation."
More than 80 percent of study participants were overweight or obese, while 61 percent weren't eating enough heart-healthy foods. Nearly three-quarters had either dangerously high or elevated cholesterol, and 85 percent had elevated or high blood pressure.
Although nearly a quarter of participants reported getting regular exercise, most of the rest either did so sporadically or were inactive.
Blacks were much less likely than whites to meet the criteria, the report said.
So is the AHA's 2020 target of reducing heart disease deaths by 20 percent unrealistic?
No, said Clyde Yancy in an editorial accompanying the study, citing better-than-expected results in an earlier effort -- although reaching it may require a "moonshot mentality."
"Clearly, there is much work to be done, but we can and should address this goal with the ingenuity and fervor that previously spurred our success," he wrote.
Reporting by Adam Marcus at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies