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Jun 17, 2011

Overweight and Obesity Slows Downward Trend of Heart Attack Incidence

UK decreased heart attack risk by 74% over last 20 years.

Thanks to prevention guidelines, rates for heart disease and cardiac events have decreased significantly throughout the last 20 years in the UK. In fact, a recent study shows that risk for heart attack fell by 74% in this country over the past two decades. With cardiovascular disease remaining the leading cause of death in the UK and other developed countries, many are looking to the UK to see exactly what they’re doing right to help combat this epidemic.

To answer this question, researchers have attempted to determine the exact causes for the considerable decline in heart attacks in the UK. In a recent study following over 9,000 British men and women from 1985 to 2004, data showed that reductions in non-HDL or “bad” cholesterol was the largest cause (34%) of the decline in heart attacks, followed by increased HDL or “good” cholesterol (17%), reduced systolic blood pressure (13%), and reduced smoking prevalence (6%). Unfortunately, researchers also found that increased rates of overweight and obesity have counteracted the benefits of cardiovascular risk reduction and slowed the decline in heart attack risk by 11%.

While these statistics may sound complicated, the take home messages are very clear. First, this study shows that prevention guidelines, such as managing healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure, are extremely effective in reducing cardiovascular risk. On the flip side, it also reinforces that risk reduction is most beneficial in combination with healthy weight maintenance. For example, while lowering your cholesterol will help decrease risk for heart attack, healthy cholesterol levels will decrease cardiovascular risk even more in combination with maintaining a healthy weight. Therefore, it is important that physicians continue to reinforce the importance of cardiovascular risk reduction in combination with weight reduction and management. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • What should I do to reduce my heart attack risk?

  • Based on study findings and previous guidelines, you can help reduce your risk for heart attack by controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure, quitting smoking (if you’re a smoker), and maintaining a healthy weight. You should also try to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
  • Are UK study findings relevant to the United States population?

  • Although this study involved British men and women, findings remain pertinent to the United States. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in wealthy countries, including both the US and UK. Therefore, both countries are struggling to prevent heart disease and reduce its prevalence nationwide.

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