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Twenty-five Percent of U.S. CVD Deaths Avoidable

In 2010, an estimated 200,070 deaths due to heart disease and stroke could have been prevented….

More than half (56%) of these deaths occurred in people younger than 65 years of age. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, "These findings are really striking because we are talking about hundreds of thousands of deaths that don’t have to happen," Frieden said during a media briefing. Preventable deaths due to heart disease and stroke are "tragedies that happen far too often," he said.

Dr. Frieden added that, "Every year, about 1 out of every 3 deaths in our country, about 800,000, are from cardiovascular disease." For the first time ever, today we are reporting on the number of preventable deaths from heart disease and stroke." The data show that nearly one fourth of all cardiovascular disease deaths are avoidable.

The CDC defined preventable deaths from heart disease, stroke, and hypertensive disease as those that occurred in people under age 75 that could have been prevented by more effective public health measures, lifestyle changes, or medical care. 

The number of preventable deaths due to heart disease and stroke has declined in people aged 65 to 74 years. "This may well be because they have access to health insurance and preventive screenings and treatment through their Medicare coverage," Dr. Frieden said.

But preventable deaths due to heart disease and stroke have not fallen in the under 65 crowd. "More than half of preventable deaths, about 6 in 10, happen in people under the age of 65 and in that group improvement has been much slower," Dr. Frieden reported.

"As a doctor, I find it really heartbreaking to know that the vast majority of people having a heart attack or stroke under the age of 65, in particular, and dying from it didn’t have to have that happen," he said.

Men are more than twice as likely as women — and blacks nearly twice as likely as whites — to die of preventable heart disease and stroke, the data show. The highest avoidable death rates in 2010 were concentrated primarily in the southern Appalachian region and much of Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. The lowest rates were in the West, Midwest, and Northeast regions.

"It’s unfortunate but your longevity may be more likely to be influenced by your zip code than your genetic code," Dr. Frieden said. "Not only are there big differences within the US, but if you compare us with other countries we are not doing as well as we could. The overall rate of cardiovascular deaths in the US is about 50% higher than many similar countries around the world," Dr. Frieden said.

Through better management of blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, "rapid and substantial progress" in reducing these preventable deaths is possible, Dr. Frieden said.

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. Published online September 3, 2013. Full text