Heart Attack Survivors Do Not Take Diet Advice Seriously

Melanie Thomassian Health Pro
  • Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, but statistics tell us that more than 13 million Americans have survived a heart attack, or have already been diagnosed with coronary heart disease (CHD). Thankfully we know that lifestyle changes can reduce the risk for subsequent cardiac events.


    However, the shocking truth, according to researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS), is that despite this evidence, a high proportion of heart attack survivors do not take on the advice of health professional to follow a healthy lifestyle.


    A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, "Dietary Quality One Year after Diagnosis of Coronary Heart Disease," looked at the diets of 555 coronary heart disease patients one year after a diagnostic coronary angiography.

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    "This study found that CHD patients' diets had not improved in the year after being diagnosed," said Dr Yunsheng Ma. "We know that a healthy diet is one of the most important components of a healthy lifestyle, especially for patients following a cardiac event, and yet patients are not acting on this knowledge."


    How was the research carried out?

    The quality of each patient's diet was assessed using a 24-hour dietary recall, one year after CHD diagnosis. Researchers used a scoring system, with a maximum of 80 points being available (indicated the healthiest diet), however the average score was only 30.8, with individual scores ranging between 5.1 and 69.8.


    Researchers found that:

    • Only 12.4% met the optimal daily consumption of vegetables.
    • Only 7.8% met the optimal daily consumption for fruit.
    • Only 8% met the cereal fiber recommendation.
    • Only 5.2% limited their trans-fat intake to 0.5% of total calories, or less.
    • Nearly 11% of calories were from saturated fat (less than 7% is recommended).
    • Total fiber was only 16.8 grams per day (25 grams ormore per day is recommended).

    Why do you think this was the case? Was it possibly due to poor education post-CHD, or is it merely down to patients' lack of concern over their health?


    Researchers found that low dietary quality was associated with:

    • Smoking - on average, smokers scored six units lower than non-smokers.
    • Lower educational levels - participants with education beyond high school scored three units higher than participants with a high school education.
    • Obesity - obese participants scored four units lower than normal weight, or overweight participants.
    • High-fat intake.
    • Lower calorie intake.

    Dr Ira Ockene said, "An overwhelming number of CHD patients, roughly 80%, do not attend cardiac rehabilitation programs, which instruct CHD patients about proper diet and exercise." "Changing one's eating habits is a long-term process, and optimal care should include cardiac rehabilitation and appointments with dietitians, which can build upon the patient's initial foundations to improve his or her diet and overall health."


    So, what can CHD patients learn from the findings in this study?

    • Healthy eating is a long-term process, but it can result in improved health, and well-being for the future.
    • Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables, at least 5 portions each day.
    • Increase your intake of fibre rich foods, for example oats, barley, wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, beans, and legumes.
    • Reduce your intake of trans and saturated fatty acids, by consuming mostly fresh, whole foods, low fat dairy, lean meats, and avoiding processed foods.
    • Aim to accumulate a minimum of 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week.
    • Attend cardiac rehabilitation programs provided by your local health care team.
    • Also, physicians and health care providers should place more emphasis on dietary counselling, and exercise for CHD patients.

    Melanie Thomassian is a dietician, and author of Dietriffic.com, an online resource of healthy eating tips for busy people!


Published On: February 14, 2008