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.
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,
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