Roundup: Pandemic-Spurred Decline in Daily Steps Concerning; Extra Weight in Kids Linked to Higher Risk of Hypertension; and More News
4 min. read
Written By: John Fernandez
Published: March 24, 2023
Written By: John Fernandez
Published: March 24, 2023
Daily Steps Taken Have Dropped Since the Pandemic, Potentially Affecting Long-Term Health, Study Finds
Sedentary living that results in fewer steps taken daily was a concerning issue during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which marks its third year overall this month. A new study finds that many U.S. adults have still not bounced back from the COVID-impacted inactivity.
They are still taking, on average, 600 to 700 fewer daily steps, according to the study, led by researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, and published in JAMA Network Open. That many fewer daily steps can be significant to adults of all ages. An unrelated separate study earlier this year found that just an additional 500 steps daily, which is about a quarter mile, was associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke or heart failure.
In the new study, researchers were surprised to find that younger people, ages 18 to 30, were more likely to be taking fewer daily steps than older adults.
“These findings suggest a consistent, widespread, and significant decline in activity following the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S.,” the study’s authors state. “Vulnerable populations, including individuals at a lower socioeconomic status and those reporting worse mental health in the early COVID-19 period, were at the highest risk of reduced activity.”
Researchers concluded that they found a “statistically significant decline in daily step counts that persisted even after most COVID-19–related restrictions were relaxed, suggesting COVID-19 affected long-term behavioral choices.”
Researchers based their findings on data from the National Institutes of Health's All of Us Research Program. Most of the 6,000 program participants, with an average age of 53, used activity trackers for at least 10 hours a day over several years. They allowed the researchers to monitor their electronic health data.
Step counts monitored between Jan.1, 2018, and Jan.31, 2020, were considered pre-COVID. Steps tracked afterward, until the end of 2021, were deemed as post-COVID.
Researchers Track How Extra Weight Puts Children, Ages 3 to 17, at Higher Risk for Hypertension
Young people between the ages of 3 and 17 who are at the high range of “normal body weight” had a 26 percent higher risk of developing hypertension, or high blood pressure, compared to those who were closer to the mid-level of average weight, new research finds.
The study looked at the electronic health records of 801,019 young people who were members of Kaiser Permanente in Southern California between 2008 and 2015. The study was conducted by researchers at Kaiser Permanente, the U.S. healthcare system based in Oakland, California. It is published in JAMA Network Open.
Researchers focused on body mass index (BMI), an estimate of body fat based on height and weight, at the beginning of the study and at a five-year follow-up. They divided normal body weight into low (5th through 39th percentile), medium (40th through 59th percentile), and high (60th through 84th percentile). They also tracked who developed high blood pressure.
Compared to youths in the medium range of average weight, the risk of developing high blood pressure within five years was 26 percent higher for youths at the high end of the average weight range. Every BMI unit gained per year increased their risk of hypertension by 4 percent.
The rate of hypertension was higher among boys than girls, and among youth on state-subsidized health plans, compared to those not on state-subsidized health plans, stated Kaiser Permanente in a news release.
“Obesity may be the most important risk factor for hypertension during childhood,” said the study’s senior author, Poornima Kunani, M.D., a pediatrician and researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Manhattan Beach Medical Office, in a statement. “Parents should talk to their pediatrician to see if your child might be at risk for hypertension and other preventable chronic medical conditions related to obesity. They can help you with strategies for developing habits to keep your child healthy through adulthood.”
Mediterranean Diet Reduces Risk of Heart Disease, Death in Women, Researchers Find
A so-called Mediterranean diet, which focuses on plant-based, unprocessed foods, is considered ideal in helping prevent cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. The authors of a new study say they are the first to analyze the impact of such a diet on women. Their findings: Women who followed a Mediterranean diet closely had a 24 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and a 23 percent lower risk of mortality, or early death.
Led by researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia, the report analyzed 16 previous studies and its findings were published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Heart.
The Mediterranean diet has prompted increasing interest due to its association with cardiovascular protection, the report said. “This diet is described as high in unprocessed plant foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil), moderate in fish/shellfish and low in red/processed meat, dairy, animal fats, and discretionary foods,” the study states.
The study’s authors acknowledge limitations, primarily that the studies reviewed were “observational in nature, with reliance on self-reported food frequency questionnaires to determine exposure and resulting susceptibility to bias.”
The study’s participants were primarily from the U.S. and Europe. More than 700,000 women, aged 18 and older, were part of the report, with their cardiovascular health monitored through questionnaires for an average of 12.5 years.
“The Mediterranean diet is known for its health benefits, especially for heart health, but most studies and research into diet and heart disease are done primarily in men,” said Anushriya Pant, University of Sydney Ph.D. candidate who led the analysis, in a statement. “Now we have confirmed that similar benefits apply for women’s dietary guidelines, and this reflects the strength of the Mediterranean diet for good heart health.”
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