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U.S. Deaths Down From Heart Disease, Stroke

But childhood obesity epidemic could undo gains, heart association says

TUESDAY, Jan. 22 (HealthDay News) -- American Heart Association goals to reduce deaths from heart disease and stroke by 2010 have been virtually met.

But a worrisome lack of progress against such intractable health problems as obesity and diabetes -- even among children -- could render those gains short-lived, the heart association reported Tuesday.

New 2005 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that since 1999, deaths from heart disease have dropped by 25.8 percent and deaths from stroke have fallen by 24.4 percent.

"This is evidence of strong progress in our battle against heart disease and stroke," said Dr. Dan Jones, president of the heart association.

In 1999, the association set the goal of a 25 percent reduction in deaths from heart disease and stroke by 2010, Jones said. "We have made that goal in heart disease and are just fractions from meeting that goal in stroke," he said.

The fall in mortality means that, compared to 1999 levels, there will be 36 percent fewer deaths from heart disease in 2008 and 34 percent fewer deaths from stroke.

Jones cited a number of factors that have contributed to the reduction in deaths from heart disease and stroke, the nation's number-one and number-three killers, respectively. They include better treatments for both heart disease and stroke, with new medications and technologies, and new treatment guidelines, he said.

Also noteworthy are better drugs and treatment guidelines to control blood pressure and cholesterol, and a reduction in smoking rates, he said.

Despite this progress, concerns remain. "Not everyone is benefiting," Jones said. "Health disparities across race and geography mean that not everyone has rates that are falling as fast as for everyone else."

For instance, while deaths from heart disease have dropped 26.9 percent for women since 1999, deaths from stroke have fallen only 23.7 percent -- lower than the 25.8 percent for men.

Also, differences among racial groups continue to persist. For blacks, deaths from heart disease are down by 23.8 percent, compared with 25.6 percent for whites. Stroke deaths among blacks have dropped 20.3 percent, compared with 25 percent for whites.

Jones said these differences were particularly noticeable in the South, the so-called "Stroke Belt."

Much of the progress comes from better treatment, not prevention, Jones said. "We would like to see more emphasis on preventing heart disease, particularly with our epidemic of childhood obesity," he said. "Soon high blood pressure rates will be on the rise and we will be overwhelmed with a new epidemic of cardiovascular disease that will hit people at a younger age."

Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, agrees that more effort is needed to get people to control risk factors -- such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol -- for heart disease and stroke.

"The decline in age-adjusted death rates in the United States for coronary heart disease is a spectacular and highly remarkable achievement," he said.

"However, cardiovascular risk factor control is still far from ideal and preventable. Cardiovascular events are still occurring, so this should be a call for further support for the efforts of the American Heart Association, CDC, and other organizations to improve the nation's cardiovascular health," Fonarow said.

More information

For more on heart disease and stroke, visit the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Dan Jones, M.D., president, American Heart Association, Dallas; Gregg C. Fonarow, M.D., professor, cardiology, University of California, Los Angeles; American Heart Association, news release, Jan. 22, 2008

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