She cited stents, the tiny flexible tubes inserted routinely after artery-opening procedures to keep vessels open. Steinbaum also mentioned implanted defibrillators and pacemakers. "All of cardiology has been improving," she said.
Yet the new report also foreshadows future problems, she noted. For example, it is now possible to measure coronary artery calcification -- deposits that can thicken to block arteries. One U.S. study found that 15 percent of men ages 33 to 45 and 5.1 percent of women of the same age already had significant artery calcification, making them more likely to have cardiovascular problems in the years ahead.
America's children aren't in the best shape, either, Steinbaum said. She said there's already been talk of giving cholesterol-reducing statin drugs to young people.
"We might not see any immediate change in the death rate, but we might start seeing a change in incidence," she said. "What concerns me most of all is that we might start seeing an increase in heart disease in young people."
The incidence of overweight (body mass index at the 95th percentile) increased among children 6 to 11 years of age from 4 percent in 1971-74 to 17 percent in 2003-2006, the new report said. Among infants from 6 months to 23 months of age, the prevalence of high weight-for-age was 7.2 percent in 1976-1980 and 11.5 percent in 2003-2006.
It all cycles back to lifestyles, Gardner said.
"The challenge we face with reducing risk factors is figuring out what motivates people to change behavior, narrowing the gaps in gender and socioeconomic disparities, and assessing what we can do on a broad scale to affect the environments where people live, work and pl
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