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Jan 25, 2012

2012 Update of Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics

Cardiovascular risk remains high among Americans.

Each year, the American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies compile the most up-to-date statistics on heart disease and stroke in the United States. These statistics, drawn from a number of national surveys and studies, are then published and used to help identify areas of concern and address them accordingly in subsequent years. So what do the statistics, recently published in the medical journal Circulation, show this year?

Overall, the rate of death from heart disease has declined 30% from 1998 to 2008. However, this does not mean that heart disease is not a key health concern for this country. Combined, heart attack or stroke affect more than 1.5 million Americans each year. And although the rate of death has declined over the years, heart disease remains the number one killer of adults, causing 1 in 6 deaths in the U.S. in 2008.

But perhaps most concerning is the number of Americans at risk or living with heart disease. Roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, one-third have hypertension, 17–21% are smokers, 15% have high cholesterol and 8% have diabetes. Among children, around one-third are overweight or obese—a result of decreased physical activity and increased calorie consumption.

Together, these statistics illuminate an immense opportunity for better prevention and control of heart disease. Although researchers have done a great job at identifying effective therapies and treatments that can greatly improve outcomes for those at risk or living with heart disease, the challenge now lies in promoting behavior and lifestyle changes—two factors that can’t be fixed with a pill or medical procedure. Instead, patients, providers and policy makers must work together to address inactivity, diet, weight control and traditional cardiovascular risk reduction to reduce the burden of heart disease and improve overall health of the United States.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Does cardiovascular risk differ among different races or ethnicities?

  • Yes. Research from 2012 shows that African-American adults have among the highest rates of hypertension in the world (44% vs. 33.5% of U.S. adults). African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Hispanic/Latino individuals and other ethnic minorities are also disproportionately affected by diabetes, and Mexican-American and African American children are disproportionately affected by overweight and obesity. 

  • How can Americans help reduce their cardiovascular risk?

  • There are a variety of ways that Americans can reduce their cardiovascular risk. Given the obesity epidemic among children, increasing physical activity and improving diet are key for weight reduction and control. Among adults, lifestyle changes such as exercise, improved diet, stress reduction and quitting smoking are important. And for those with risk factors such as high blood pressure or diabetes, it is important to work with a health care provider to manage these conditions.

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