Some young African-American adults believe their risk for stroke is low despite having higher rates of the condition due to high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. But increased education and better eating habits could change that, according to new findings presented at the American Stroke Association’s (ASA) International Stroke Conference 2020.

For their study, researchers conducted a secondary review of data from the Stroke Counseling for Risk Reduction (SCORRE) investigation. Scientists reviewed the results of a questionnaire completed by 116 African-American adults—most of them women with an average age of 25 and some college education—that evaluated their personal stroke risk, ability to live healthy, nutrition and eating patterns and the role of health literacy in decreasing their stroke risk. (Perception of health and risk were measured on a scale of 0 to 10.)

The results revealed that most of these young adults’ eating habits were unhealthy despite their high levels of health literacy and a perceived ability to lead healthy lives. When using the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 recommendations for a healthier lifestyle, participants averaged a low score in all five categories included (for example, eating more than four cups of fruits and veggies each day).

Researchers found that more than half of participants (53%) inaccurately perceived their risk for stroke, while 70% believed they had little or no risk at all despite having an average of three modifiable stroke risk factors, including poor nutrition, lack of exercise, overweight and high blood pressure.

“Nutrition habits are very important to the health of our society and are difficult to change, regardless of levels of health literacy,” said Stacy Perrin, PhD, a student investigator of the SCORRE study and a nurse at Grady Health System in Atlanta.

“If people think they’re not at risk of a stroke, they are less likely to change their behavior to reduce the risk because they don’t believe anything is wrong,” Perrin added. “This perception is not healthy.”

For related coverage, read "Can Hip-Hop Help Minority Children Recognize Signs of Stroke?"