How’s Your Health? Daily Habits vs. Genetics

179062209I was having lunch at a restaurant and I overheard some older folks talking about their health. The conversation was about the connection between what they ate and the risk of suffering from a heart attack—the consensus being that their diet was not really that important and their genes were. They were pre-programmed for a risk profile so, regardless of what they did, they were going to experience their relative fates.

Well, you would be interested to know that a lot of people think this way regarding their risk of heart disease.

But it’s not the best way to reduce their risk of suffering a heart attack. Not by a long shot.

Here’s why. A new Canadian study of more than 22 million people over the age of 20, predicted the effects of five common risk factors over the next 20 years contributing to the development of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers looked at key risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, and made predictions based on health survey data from 2003 to 2009.

The Canadian data confirms similar research from the United States and Europe: Obesity and diabetes are top indicators for the development of heart disease. In fact, obesity is predicted to surpass smoking as the No. 1 controllable risk factor for heart disease in the next year. Type 2 diabetes also is expected to increase, adding to the burden of heart disease on the economy and our health care system. Although the other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, were predicted to decrease, the prevalence of obesity and diabetes will continue to rise for the next 20 years.

But we can turn things around. It comes down to individual behaviors. These two risk factors are directly related to the diet we consume and the lifestyle we choose to live every day. This report tells us something very important indeed. It tells us that the trends for diabetes and obesity are widespread and show no signs of stopping.

The effects of a diet higher in calories derived from French fries, burgers, fried chicken, soda, hot dogs, pizza, sugar, alcohol, frozen entrees and snack foods, combined with lower levels of physical activity across all age groups, has lead to a near-global epidemic of people who are overweight, obese or diabetic.

The problem? Modern society’s hectic pace. Our willingness to take shortcuts when it comes to our health. Our lack of care and attention to the whole food our body truly needs. The list goes on. So many of us no longer make our own meals or shop for nutritious foods and prepare them properly. People want fast, convenient meals and snacks, promoting a reliance on fast food and processed foods that can be nuked in the microwave and on the table in minutes.

The people I overheard should try and understand that their risk for suffering a heart attack is much more determined by what they do – than the health of their parents and grandparents.

Busko, M. “Obesity Will Surpass Smoking as Biggest CV Risk Factor,” Medscape website, May 22, 2014;, last accessed June 9, 2014.
Manuel, D., et al., “Projections of preventable risks for cardiovascular disease in Canada to 2021: a microsimulation modelling approach,” CMAJ Open May 20, 2014; 2(2): E94–E101.