Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

UAB Investigators Examine Metabolic Syndrome Prevalence in the U.S.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of cardiometabolic risk factors associated with increased risk of multiple chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. The objectives of this study were to estimate the prevalence of metabolic syndrome overall, by race and sex, and to assess trends in prevalence from 1988 through 2012.


[Photo: Mr. Justin X. Moore (left) and Dr. Tomi Akinyemiju]

Data was obtained and analyzed from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for 1988 through 2012. We defined metabolic syndrome as the presence of at least 3 of these components: elevated waist circumference, elevated triglycerides, reduced high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high blood pressure, and elevated fasting blood glucose. Data were analyzed for 3 periods: 1988-1994, 1999-2006, and 2007-2012.

Among US adults aged 18 years or older, the prevalence of metabolic syndrome rose by more than 35% from 1988-1994 to 2007-2012, increasing from 25.3% to 34.2%. During 2007-2012, non-Hispanic black men were less likely than non-Hispanic white men to have metabolic syndrome (odds ratio [OR], 0.77; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.66-0.89). However, non-Hispanic black women were more likely than non-Hispanic white women to have metabolic syndrome (OR, 1.20; 95% CI, 1.02-1.40). Low education level (OR, 1.56; 95% CI, 1.32-1.84) and advanced age (OR, 1.73; 95% CI, 1.67-1.80) were independently associated with increased likelihood of metabolic syndrome during 2007-2012.

This study is one of the largest (data are from almost 3 decades) to use the harmonized criteria for metabolic syndrome in characterizing the prevalence, trends, and sociodemographic distribution of this condition among US adults. We observed that by 2012, more than one-third of all US adults met the criteria for metabolic syndrome, with the highest burden being among non-Hispanic black and adults with low socioeconomic status. We observed that this increase is not driven solely by the rising prevalence of obesity among US adults; metabolic syndrome prevalence was constant over time even among the non-obese (>16% prevalence for all periods). Prevalence of metabolic syndrome increases rapidly with age, suggesting that given the demographic trend in the US population of increasing age, further increases in metabolic syndrome prevalence are to be expected, with concomitant increases in related chronic diseases and conditions.

This study has several strengths and limitations. First, NHANES is a nationally representative, Metabolic syndrome prevalence increased from 1988 to 2012 for every sociodemographic group; by 2012, more than a third of all US adults met the definition and criteria for metabolic syndrome agreed to jointly by several international organizations.

UAB researchers are from the department of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health and include Mr. Justin X. Moore, Graduate Student Trainee; Mr. Ninad Chaudhary, Graduate Student Trainee; and Dr. Tomi Akinyemiju, Assistant Professor.

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