Background: Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women. Data are lacking on the prevalence of specific risk factors among women of various ethnic groups. We examined data from the 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) for prevalence of self-reported risk factors among women by race/ethnicity and age.
Methods: The BRFSS is a state-based, random-digit-dialed telephone survey of the civilian non-institutionalized U.S. population aged > or = 18 years. In 2001, a total of 120,035 women reported whether (1) they had ever been told by a healthcare provider that they had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes; (2) they smoked; and (3) they were physically inactive. Obesity status was determined by self-reported height and weight. Data were weighted to each state's population.
Results: Among all women, 26.3% had high blood pressure, 23.2% had high cholesterol levels, 21.1% currently smoked, 6.8% had diabetes, 25.4% were obese, and 28.6% physically inactive. Age-adjusted prevalence of high blood pressure was highest among African Americans (AA) (36.3%) and Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders (HPI) (33.7%), and lowest among Asians (18.0%). High blood cholesterol was highest among HPI (23.9%) and white (22.3%) women. American Indian/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) had the highest percentages of diabetes (12.7%) and current smoking (32.4%). Obesity was highest among AA (38.4%) and AI/AN (31.9%) women and lowest among Asian (7.8%) women. Physical inactivity was most common among Hispanic women (42.4%), and least common among Asian women (23.3%). Thirty-eight percent of women had two or more risk factors, ranging from 20.1% of Asian women to 48.8% of AA women.
Conclusions: A substantial proportion of American women have two or more risk factors for heart disease, and the prevalence of individual risk factors varies by racial/ethnic background. Aggressive efforts to reduce and control risk factors, including population-specific programs, are crucial for limiting the incidence of heart disease.