Unhealthy behaviors could slow progress in reducing heart disease, stroke

December 12, 2012

Poor eating and exercise habits could be the game-changer in the fight against heart disease and stroke deaths, according to the American Heart Association's "Heart Disease and Stroke Statistical Update 2013," published in the American Heart Association journal, Circulation.

"Americans need to move a lot more, eat healthier and less, and manage risk factors as soon as they develop," said Alan S. Go, M.D., chairman of the report's writing committee and chief of the Cardiovascular and Metabolic Conditions Section of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research in Oakland. "If not, we'll quickly lose the momentum we've gained in reducing heart attack and stroke rates and improving survival over the last few decades."

Between 1999 and 2009, the rate of deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) fell 32.7 percent, but still accounted for nearly one in three deaths in the nation. That's 2,150 people dying from CVD each day -- about one death every 40 seconds.

In 2010, the American Heart Association set a goal to improve cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent and reduce heart disease and stroke deaths 20 percent by 2020.

However, according to projections in the 2013 report, heart health may only improve by 6 percent if current trends continue. The biggest barriers to success are projected increases in obesity and diabetes, and only modest improvements in diet and physical activity. On a positive note, smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure rates are projected to decline.

Among heart disease and stroke risk factors, the most recent data shows:Despite four decades of improvement, 21.3 percent of men and 16.7 percent of women age 18 and over still smoke cigarettes; 18.1 percent of students in grades 9-12 report cigarette smoking.

"As the leader in the fight against heart disease and stroke, we are taking a more aggressive and innovative approach, including taking some pages from the playbooks of the public health sector," said Donna Arnett, Ph.D., president of the American Heart Association and chairperson of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. "We're focusing on population-based ways to improve health factors for all Americans."

Some of these include:The association has a wide range of programs and policy initiatives aimed at improving cardiovascular health through risk factor prevention and health care quality, Arnett said. Information on improving your heart health can be found at www.MyHeartMyLife.org. To learn more about some of the policy initiatives of the association, go to http://bit.ly/VmAoIg.

"In this race against time, it will take nationwide efforts driven by communities and systems -- a patient-by-patient approach alone won't do it," Arnett said. "But we're optimistic that if we increase our efforts for improvements in prevention and reductions in risk factors, we can be successful -- we can save lives."
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Additional authors and disclosures are on the manuscript.

The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association receives funding mostly from individuals. Foundations and corporations donate as well, and fund specific programs and events. Strict policies are enforced to prevent these relationships from influencing the association's science content. Financial information for the American Heart Association, including a list of contributions from pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers, is available at www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

American Heart Association

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