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Jan 10, 2016

Heart Disease Remains Top Killer in the United States

Heart disease accounts for 1 in 3 deaths, highlighting an urgent need for prevention and treatment.

Heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases remain the top killer of men and women in the United States, making prevention and treatment top priority, according to the American Heart Association’s latest update on Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics.

Published in the journal Circulation, this report provides the most up-to-date statistics on heart diseases and stroke. Much of the recent data was based on U.S. mortality data from 2013 and results of the 2009–2012 NHANES study, which surveys Americans about their health, diet and lifestyle.

The good news, as authors found, is that we’ve made significant progress in combatting America’s No. 1 killer. From 2003 to 2013, the number of heart-related deaths have declined by 12% in the United States. During the same period, the number of deaths from stroke fell by 18%.

However, heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of Americans, accounting for 1 in 3 US deaths in 2013. Minorities still face higher rates of heart disease, stroke and other heart conditions than whites.

To address these issues, authors highlight the importance of the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular risk factors. Based on the most recent data, poor lifestyle behaviors are the biggest cause of death and disability in the United States.

First, factors like smoking, obesity, physical inactivity and poor diet have a major impact on cardiovascular risk. For example, in 2014 only half of American adults met current physical activity guidelines (at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week). In 2012, fewer than 1% of children and 1.5% of adults have an ideal diet based on current guidelines.

In addition to lifestyle behaviors, medical conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes also play a major role in cardiovascular health. It’s estimated that less than half of adults have ideal cholesterol levels, and nearly one-third of American adults have high blood pressure.

As a result, experts highlight the importance of addressing both lifestyle choices and existing cardiovascular risk factors to combat heart disease. Most Americans have at least one risk factor for heart disease and addressing these risk factors can go a long way in preventing heart disease and improving outcomes.

Thanks to “Life’s Simple 7”, improving heart health is easier than ever before. Recently introduced by the American Heart Association, these guidelines address diet, physical activity, smoking, weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Together, these simple steps can help Americans improve their heart health and reduce risk for heart disease, stroke and other common heart conditions.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

  • How much exercise do I need?
  • Regular physical activity is important for both children and adults. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

    • Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
    • Optimum exercise levels for adults includes:
      • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
      • Activity spread across the week with periods of aerobic exercise of at least 10 minutes at a time.
      • Muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.

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