The middle-aged population need to become more aware and start taking precautions against cardiovascular disease.
February is more than just a month spent celebrating past presidents and sending valentines. For many years, the month has also been designated as a time to turn our attention to heart disease. And one of the outstanding health care achievements over those past years, actually decades, has been the decline in death rates from cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke. Over the past 60 years, that death rate has declined by 70%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That Was Then, This Is Now
Alarmingly, recent statistics show that death rate is in park. It has fallen only 4% during the past eight years. What is even more surprising and alarming is that the death rate is rising for middle-aged Americans. Given the reduction in smoking and the plethora of medications to control blood pressure and statins to control high cholesterol, it was assumed that cardiovascular disease would fall below cancer as the leading cause of death.
That has yet to happen because of the rise of the disease in middle-aged patients. And what is the culprit? Dr. Steven Nissen of the highly respected Cleveland Clinic recently told The Wall Street Journal that cardiovascular disease patients nowadays not only are younger but also are more obese, are much less likely to be smoker and include more women.
Statistics today bear out what we see in everyday life: Close to 40% of U.S. adults over the age of 20 are obese, another 32% are overweight and more than 9% have diabetes, according to the CDC.
Many health care professionals see obesity as the new cigarette smoking in terms of cardiovascular disease. And in terms of the wave of this disease in middle-aged people, researchers only have to look in the rear view mirror. Obesity began rising across the U.S. population in the early 1980s. And Type 2 diabetes followed.
The bottom line is that one of America’s greatest achievements over much of the past century, a huge decline in death rates from heart disease and strokes, is in the process of being reexamined. Although anti-smoking campaigns, the aforementioned medications and surgical advances have extended millions of lives, new strategies to combat overweight and obesity, which can cause Type 2 diabetes, will need to be developed. Stressing the need for weight loss and increased exercise has not shown to gain traction with many people.
One of the issues is that the middle-aged population does not see themselves as being at risk for cardiovascular disease. It is seen as a disease for older people. And that cohort still accounts for most of the cardiovascular deaths, but the rate of death for people 75 and older has actually fallen. Experts say that younger people need to become more aware and take precautions against cardiovascular disease — especially women. According to the CDC, heart disease has become the No. 1 cause of death for women in the U.S.; it has surpassed lung and breast cancer.
For more information and additional resources, visit Heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/how-to-help-prevent-heart-disease-at-any-age for a decade-by-decade primer on creating heart healthy habits.
Kristine Nickel is a marketing communications consultant. For more than 30 years, she has relieved her stress by writing features for publications across the country.