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May 04, 2016

Heart Disease Burden Has Shifted to Southern U.S. States

The highest death rates from heart disease have shifted to the South since the 1970s.

Despite national declines in heart disease mortality, the highest death tolls have shifted from the Northeast to the Deep South over the past few decades, based on study findings published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this study analyzed heart-related death trends across the United States. Although recent statistics show a dramatic decline in heart disease mortality nationwide, trends often vary by factors like gender, race and location.

To learn more about geographic trends, researchers analyzed U.S. mortality statistics from 1973 to 2010. Mortality rates were calculated in two-year intervals and included heart-related deaths in adults 35 years or older.

Since the 1970s, researchers found that the highest death rates from heart disease have shifted from Northeast to Southern U.S. states. For example, from 1973–1974, heart-related deaths were highly concentrated in the Northeast, as well as in coastal areas like North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. But by 2010, the highest death rates shifted to Southern states like Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. Researchers note that declines in heart disease mortality have been slowest in Southern states compared to the rest of the country.

As authors explain, findings highlight the need to address significant health disparities in the United States. The shift in heart disease mortality is likely due to geographic and racial differences in heart disease prevention and treatment. For example, researchers found that high blood pressure, obesity and a lack of physical activity were most common in the Deep South. According to authors, high blood pressure and diabetes likely play a major role in health disparities.

As a result, authors encourage future research on the issue. In order to address health disparities, we need to understand the biological, behavioral and environmental factors that influence them. With additional research, we can then identify the best way to address these issues and achieve health equality in the United States.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are health disparities?
  • Health disparities refer to differences in health outcomes or burdens of disease between groups of people. Health disparities can exist between different populations of race, sex, income, or even geographic location. In health care, the goal is to eliminate these differences so all individuals have the same ability to achieve good health.
  • Am I at risk for heart disease?
  • To estimate a patient’s risk for heart disease, doctors take into account a number of factors such as age, gender, blood pressure, cholesterol, and family history. Using this information, doctors can estimate whether a patient is considered to be at low, medium or high risk for heart disease. Online tools are also available to help patients estimate their risk for heart disease.

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