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Rates Coming Down for Heart Disease, Stroke Deaths

But Risk Factors Still Too High, Experts Note
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WebMD Health News

Dec. 15, 2008 - Death rates from stroke and coronary heart disease have dropped dramatically in the past decade, but despite repeated warnings to the public, risk factors for the dangerous conditions are still too high, the American Heart Association says.

In the AHA's latest report, researchers say age-adjusted death rates from coronary heart disease have declined 30.7% since 1999, and that mortality from stroke has dropped 29.2%.

"The 30% reduction is incredibly good news," Don Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, lead author of the update, tells WebMD. "But we don't see that as likely to continue."

He says the reductions "mark the achievement of major milestones set by the American Heart Association to reduce coronary heart disease and stroke [death] by 25% by 2010."

However, he says "there's a lot of worry that we are about to reverse" the positive trends. Risk factors for the conditions remain too high, according to the report, "Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics - 2009 Update," published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

"The American Heart Association is proud of the progress this country has made against America's No. 1 single cause of death and the No. 3 killer," says Timothy Gardner, MD, president of the AHA. "But our work is not done, since the major risk factors for heart disease and stroke have not seen the same decline as the death rates, and several are rising."

If the trend continues, he says, "death rates could begin to rise again in the years ahead." Although patients are working harder to control high blood pressure and high cholesterol and to quit smoking, "progress continues to lag in obesity, diabetes and physical inactivity."

 

Heart Disease, Stroke Deaths Down

According to the report:

  • Cardiovascular disease remains a major health issue affecting 1 in 3 Americans. Cardiovascular disease accounted for 34.2% of all deaths in the U.S. in 2006.
  • Despite recommendations that some proportion of activity be vigorous enough to cause heavy sweating and a significant increase in breathing and heart rate, 62% of adults 18 and older reported no strenuous activity.
  • Americans are still too fat and getting fatter. The proportion of obese children ages 6 to 11 skyrocketed from 4% in 1971-1974 to 17% in the 2003-2006 period.
  • In adolescents 12 to 19, obesity rates increased from 6.1% to 17.6% in the same time frame.
  • On the positive side, since 1999, average cholesterol has fallen from 204 to 199, and that's "a little of a milestone," says Lloyd-Jones, chairman of the AHA's statistics committee.

Edward M. Geltman, MD, professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine, says, "We've had great successes in reductions of heart disease, and reductions in stroke death are fabulous," but "the part of the report that's concerning to me is the proportion of people in vigorous activity is much less than it should be. We are a sedentary society and becoming more sedentary."

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