Heart Disease and Stroke Deaths Have Declined, But Obesity Epidemic Looms

December 19, 2008
Todd Kunkler

According to an American Heart Association news release, "age-adjusted death rates for coronary heart disease and stroke have each reached about a 30 percent reduction since 1999." However, this welcome news is offset by troubling trends in several risk factors, including rising obesity rates among children and adolescents, as well as chronic lack of exercise among adults age 18 years and older.

According to an American Heart Association news release, “age-adjusted death rates for coronary heart disease and stroke have each reached about a 30 percent reduction since 1999.” However, this welcome news is offset by troubling trends in several risk factors, including rising obesity rates among children and adolescents, as well as chronic lack of exercise among adults age 18 years and older.

The AHA news release reports that despite recommendations that adults engage in regular, vigorous exercise (defined as an activity that “causes heavy sweating and a large increase in breathing and/or heart rate”), a whopping 62% of adults who responded to the 2006 National Health Interview Survey reported “no vigorous activity lasting at least 10 minutes per session.”

Perhaps even more worrisome are the statistics regarding childhood obesity. The AHA reports that the prevalence of overweight (defined as BMI-for-age values at or above the 95th percentile) in children age 6-11 years increased from 4% in 1971—1974 to 17% in 2003–2006. In adolescents age 12-19 years, overweight increased from 6.1% to 17.6%. Astoundingly, infants and children age 6-23 months described as having high weight-for-age increased from 7.2% in 1976–1980 to 11.5% in 2003–2006.

Noting these figures, AHA president Timothy Gardner, MD, said “our work is not done, since the major risk factors for heart disease and stroke have not seen the same decline as the death rates—and several are rising. If this trend continues, death rates could begin to rise again in the years ahead. While we have seen better control of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and tobacco use, we still have much work to do on these risk factors—and progress continues to lag in obesity, diabetes and physical inactivity.” When it comes to affecting risk factors, the challenge, according to Gardner, is “figuring out what motivates people to change behavior, narrowing the gaps in gender and socioeconomic disparities, and assessing what we can do on a broad scale to affect the environments where people live, work and play.”

The complete report, titled “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics - 2009 Update. A Report from the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee,” is available online at the Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association website. The report’s lead author, Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, FAHA, told Reuters Health News that there would have been 190,000 more heart disease and stroke deaths in 2006 if cardiovascular and stroke death rates had remained at their 1999 levels. He also noted several other causes for concern, including evidence showing a possible rise in heart disease and stroke death rates among women age 35 to 54, and evidence that the decline in cardiovascular and stroke death rates among men is “flattening out.”