Why heart disease worries are rising

Long-term declines in mortality rates for people suffering heart disease and stroke are stalling, researchers say, and they are blaming one key contributing factor.

Coronary heart disease is the leading underlying cause of death in Australia, followed by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and cerebrovascular disease (which includes stroke), according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

And while mortality rates for heart disease and stroke were showing marked declines, that trend has almost stopped in many high-income countries, including Australia, and are even increasing in some countries, according to new research.

University of Melbourne academics have analysed trends in cardiovascular disease mortality, which mainly comprises heart disease and stroke, in 23 high-income countries since the year 2000.

They found cardiovascular disease mortality rates for people aged 35 to 74 were now barely declining and, in 12 of the 23 countries, were increasing.

In Australia, the UK and New Zealand, annual declines in deaths from cardiovascular disease are now just 20 to 50 per cent of what they were in the 2000s.

Professor Alan Lopez, a University of Melbourne expert on the global burden of disease, said research suggests that obesity, or at least poor diet, may have been a significant contributor to the slowdown in the decline of cardiovascular disease deaths.

“Each of these countries has very high levels of obesity. In Australia, close to one third of adults are obese,” he said.

“These increases in obesity levels mean that a significant portion of the population has been exposed to the cardiovascular disease risks associated with being overweight for several decades.”

University of Melbourne researcher and co-author Tim Adair said the research showed that the effect of successful public health interventions on cardiovascular disease mortality over the past 50 years was diminishing.

“In order to combat this, significant investment in preventive health measures is needed, particularly those aimed at increasing physical activity, improving diet and reducing obesity,” Dr Adair said.

“Failure to address these issues could confirm the end of the long-term decline in cardiovascular disease deaths and threaten future gains in life expectancy.”

Meanwhile, a study conducted by the University of Newcastle in Callaghan, New South Wales, found that if you live in a neighbourhood where fast-food restaurants abound, you might be more likely to have a heart attack.

Researchers concluded that heart attack rates were higher in neighbourhoods with more fast-food joints.

For every additional fast-food outlet in a neighbourhood, there were four additional heart attacks per 100,000 people each year, according to the report, which examined data on nearly 3100 patients hospitalised with a heart attack in a region of Australia between 2011 and 2013.

“Ischemic heart disease, including heart attack, is one of the leading causes of death worldwide,” said study author Tarunpreet Saluja. “It is known that eating fast foods is linked with a higher likelihood of fatal and non-fatal heart attacks. Despite this, there is rapid growth in the purchase and availability of fast food. This highlights the need to explore the role of food availability in the probability of having a heart attack.

“Previous studies have shown that the poor nutritional value, high salt and saturated fat in fast food is connected to heart disease.”

Are you more conscious of eating a healthy diet as you have aged? Do you limit your intake of fast food?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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