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Monday, August 30, 2010

Heart Attack Deaths in the U.S. Have Dropped Sharply

In the Harvard Health Letter, vol 35, no. 10, August 2010, and article appeared entitled, "Is the heart attack going out of style?". It stated that, based on Medicare data, the U.S. heart-attack hospitalization rate declined by 23% from 2002 to 2007. Also, a study based on 3 million members of a northern California health plan showed a 24% drop in heart attack hospitalizations between 1999 and 2008. While an increasing number of people are diagnosed with heart disease, fewer are dying from it - heart attack deaths have been declining in the U.S. for the past 40 years.

The article conjectures that, "Maybe decades of efforts to eat right and exercise more, stop smoking, lower LDL cholesterol levels, and control blood pressure are working." This appears only partially true. Yes, fewer Americans smoke, and Lipitor, a medication for reducing LDL and total cholesterol, is the most prescribed drug in the U.S. Many people are also taking blood pressure medication. Yet, there is little evidence that people are "eating right" as fast-food consumption and obesity continue to increase. Also, various national campaigns, such as the American College of Sports Medicine's Healthy People 2000, have failed dismally to get people to exercise more. Thus, it appears that the reduction in heart attacks is less due to anything that requires will power than to modern medicine. Another possible factor is reduced stress, as the economy was doing well over the study period. It remains to be seen what the recession and high unemployment rate will do to the heart attack rate. Hopefully, and emphasis on family and personal fulfillment and relationships will help keep stress to a minimum, even in the face of economic difficulties.

The reduction in heart attacks is encouraging, yet it would be even better if people became healthier through lifestyle changes such as exercise and good nutrition.

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