Heart disease death rates no longer dropping

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NEW YORK, Nov 20 (Reuters) After decades of decline, deaths due to heart disease appear to have leveled off among young men and may be trending upward in young women, according to a research. This is likely due to poor health habits and the growing number of young Americans who are overweight or obese, researchers say.

''Young adults should take stock of their lifestyles,'' Dr Earl S Ford, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, noted in a statement. ''If you're smoking, you should quit.

If you're doing less than 30 minutes of physical activity per day, it's time to find ways to be more active. If you need to lose weight, you should burn more calories than you take in.'' Ford and Dr Simon Capewell, of the University of Liverpool, UK, analyzed US vital statistics data between 1980 and 2002 for people aged 35 and older.

At first glance, the results were good: The death rate from heart disease fell by 52 per cent in men and 49 percent in women.

Among men, the death rate from heart disease declined, on average, by 2.9 per cent per year during the 1980s, 2.6 per cent per year during the 1990s, and 4.4 per cent per year from 2000 to 2002. Among women, the death rate fell in those decades by 2.6 per cent, 2.4 per cent, and 4.4 per cent, respectively.

However, the numbers tell a different story when broken down by age category. Among men aged 35 to 54, the average annual rate of death from heart disease fell by 6.2 per cent in the 1980s, by 2.3 percent in the 1990s, and leveled off with an annual decline of just 0.5 per cent between 2000 and 2002.

Among women aged 35 to 54, the average annual rate of death from heart disease fell by 5.4 per cent in the 1980s and by 1.2 per cent in the 1990s -- and then increased by 1.5 per cent between 2000 and 2002.

This increase was not significant from a statistical standpoint, meaning it could have occurred by chance. However, in even younger women -- those aged 35 to 44 -- the rate of death from heart disease has been increasing by an average of 1.3 per cent annually between 1997 and 2002, which is statistically significant.

Ford encourages people to adopt heart-healthy habits early in life, noting that harmful changes in the arteries that lead to heart disease occur at an early age. ''Therefore, it's especially important that children learn to develop appropriate behaviors that minimize their risk for heart disease later in life,'' he said, adding that heart health is a ''life-long commitment.'' The research released yesterday is published in the November 27 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Dr Philip Greenland, who co-wrote a companion editorial said this research ''should be regarded as a wake-up call for everyone interested in heart disease and heart health.'' ''The take-home message is that heart disease has not gone away, continues to be a problem, and could become a greater problem if Americans fail to pay attention to known warning signs like overweight and obesity, and lack of exercise,'' added Greenland, who is at Northwestern University, Chicago.

SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Cardiology, November 27, 2007.

REUTERS ARB RAI0852

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