Simple changes to Americans' routines could help prevent 200,000 deaths a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Specifically, better attention to heart and cardiovascular health could drastically improve the health of the nation.
“Nothing is more important than lowering the rate of heart disease and stroke,” Tom Frieden, CDC director, told reporters Tuesday morning. “They are the No. 1 killer in the U.S.”
Heart disease and stroke accounted for an estimated 200,000 preventable deaths—one out of every three—in the U.S. in 2010, according to the CDC’s monthly report on preventable diseases.
As a doctor, Frieden said he finds these statistics heartbreaking.
“One preventable death is one too many,” he said. “These findings are really striking because we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of deaths that don’t have to happen.”
More than half of those deaths occurred in people under the age of 65 and could have been prevented with lifestyle changes, better medical care, or stronger public health policies.
While progress has been made in lowering the rates of death from preventable heart disease in the 64 to 75 age range, the population in that group is increasing, so the numbers have remained unchanged over the last decade. African-Americans and men remain the highest at-risk groups.
Zip Code vs. Genetic Code
For many people, the risk of early death from heart disease and stroke may be “more influenced by your zip code than your genetic code,” Frieden said.
While many people have a genetic disposition for heart disease, many states carry a three- to ten-fold higher risk compared to states and counties with the lowest rates. For instance, Minnesotans average 36.3 deaths per 100,000 people, while Washington D.C. has 99.6 deaths per 100,00 people.
The areas with the highest risk of heart-related premature death are concentrated primarily in southern Appalachia and much of Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. States in the West, Midwest, and Northeast regions had much lower rates.
“That difference reflects the improvements we can make overall,” Frieden said.
How to Prevent Death from Heart Disease
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has launched its “Million Hearts Campaign” to try to prevent 1 million heart disease deaths by 2017 by increasing public knowledge about heart attacks, strokes, and other serious health problems.
Frieden says smoking cessation and better management of blood pressure and cholesterol are the easiest and most effective ways to lower your heart disease risk. Increased exercise and a better diet are a great way to start.
While access to quality preventative healthcare, including access to cholesterol-lowering drugs, has been an issue in the past, Frieden says the new Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act, which opens Oct. 1, will hopefully close that coverage gap and offer people the care they need.
To improve the health of its residents, Frieden said local communities should focus on more open spaces for exercise, including places to walk, and fewer places that allow smoking.
“Despite progress against heart disease and stroke, hundreds of thousands of Americans die each year from these preventable causes of death,” Frieden said. “Many of the heart attacks and strokes that will kill people in the coming year could be prevented by reducing blood pressure and cholesterol and stopping smoking.”