A new survey aims to dispel common myths about heart health.
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Researchers have previously established direct ties between diet and cardiovascular health, and nearly any healthcare professional will tell you that what you eat can affect your heart health.

Luckily, diets that support a healthy heart are in vogue right now: Just think about the exploding popularity of the Mediterranean diet, as well as an uptick in programs like the Ornish diet, for those struggling with cardiovascular issues. But a new survey shows that many Americans still don't understand how poor diets can lead to health scares like heart attacks or strokes.

The survey, conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, asked 1,002 men and women ages 18 to 73 about cardiovascular health issues, revealing that many had misconceptions about how a diet can lead to more than just weight gain or loss. Steven Nissen, M.D., the chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told Runner's World that misconceptions may cause people to lose touch with how their decisions could affect them in the long run.

Results showed that 88 percent of those surveyed understood that a healthy weight could lead to a healthy heart, and roughly 75 percent said they were "concerned" about their weight as well. But a whopping 18 percent also reported that their diet had nothing to do with overall cardiovascular health, which shows that Americans may not understand how to improve their heart health after all.

Plus, another 42 percent reported that they believe being overweight wouldn't affect their heart health if they maintained an exercise routine, without actually losing any weight. The same survey showed, furthermore, that 87 percent of respondents didn't understand that obesity is linked to cancer; and another 80 percent didn't know that obesity could also raise risk of atrial fibrillation.

“Weight can be a complex issue and [is] a sensitive one for many people,” Nissen told Runner's World. “One problem is that a lot of misinformation about diet, wellness and exercise exists, and that has led to confusion. Because of this, many people may get frustrated with their efforts or not start a weight loss program in the first place.”

The survey found that almost 33 percent of respondents said they attempted diets—but only for a week or two. Plus, respondents didn't understand how much weight they'd need to lose in order to make improvements (many believed it would be much more substantial than it actually is).

“There is poor understanding of the relationship between body weight and health,” Nissen said. “Unfortunately, many people seem paralyzed by this lack of knowledge. The positive news is that people only need to lose about 5 percent of body weight to see significant health impacts.”