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While heart disease rates decline, some southern areas see less progress

There may be a new predictor to determine your risk.
There may be a new predictor to determine your risk.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – ​A recent study published in  the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation looking into heart disease death rates in the United States found that the south has progressed slower than the rest of the country in cutting down on heart disease related deaths. 

The study looked at mortality data from residents 35 years and older in more than 3,000 counties between 1973 and 2010.

In the 1970's researchers found that the largest concentration of counties with high heart disease related death rates was in the Northeast, Midwest and Appalachia regions of the country as well as along coastal areas in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

By the end of the study period the high-concentration regions shifted to counties south of the Mason-Dixie Line.

These findings emphasize the importance of geography in relation to heart disease prevention and treatment, according to Michele Casper, the study’s lead author and an ​epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention in Atlanta.

“This is the most comprehensive study to compare county-level patterns of geographic disparities in heart disease death rates over an extended time frame,” Casper said.

Heart disease death rates are still down all across the country, but this study shows that the rate of decline is lower in areas in the Southern United States.

Declines in heart disease death rates ranged from 9.2 percent to 83.4 percent among U.S. counties in the past four decades.

Counties with the slowest declines (9.2 ​to 49.6 percent) were primarily concentrated in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

The fastest county declines (64.1 to 83.4 percent) were largely found in the northern half of the nation.

Overall, the magnitude of geographic inequality in heart disease death rates nearly doubled during the course of the study. 

“These findings provide local communities with important historical context regarding their current burden of heart disease, and emphasize the importance of local conditions in heart disease prevention and treatment efforts,” Casper said.

Although the study didn’t investigate the reasons behind the death rate disparities, researchers say the findings may suggest regional changes in conditions that affect heart disease death rates.

Things like changes in social and economic conditions, healthy public policies, opportunities for physical activity, promotion of smoke-free environments and access to healthy foods and healthcare may have been factors.

“This is the most comprehensive study to compare county-level patterns of geographic disparities in heart disease death rates over an extended time frame,” Casper said.​

“Despite the overall decline in heart disease death rates, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, as well as one of the most widespread and costly health problems facing the nation. More than 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year – that’s one in every four deaths,” Casper said.