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Have Only Well-Off Americans Gained From Recent Strides Against Heart Disease?
  • Posted April 5, 2024

Have Only Well-Off Americans Gained From Recent Strides Against Heart Disease?

America is making headway against heart disease, with heart-related deaths declining over the past three decades.

But it appears that only the well-to-do have benefitted, a new study shows.

Heart attack rates have stayed the same or gotten worse among the poor during the same 30-year period, researchers found.

“The decline in cardiovascular health has not been shared equally over the last three decades,” said researcher Dr. Adam Richards, a George Washington University associate professor of global health and medicine.

The 10-year risk of heart disease fell from 7.7% to 5.1% for the wealthiest folks, and from 7.6% to 6.1% for people of above-average wealth, researchers found.

But heart disease risk remained stagnant among people with the lowest incomes, at more than 8%.

These results were drawn from data gathered during a regular federal health survey, including nearly 27,000 people ages 40 to 75 who hadn't suffered a prior heart attack or stroke, researchers said.

Overall, national trends showed improvement in heart disease, but when researchers divided people into income groups they found that heart benefits were not experienced equally across society.

The new study was published April 3 in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

“This study shows we need to be looking long and hard about ways to improve access to healthcare and other social determinants of health that play a role in higher cardiovascular risks for low-income households,” Richards said in a journal news release.

The study was not designed to figure out why these disparities exist, but other studies have found that improved treatments for heart disease and heart risk factors explain the decline in heart-related deaths, researchers said.

It's likely that wealthier folks have more access to treatment that helps keep heart disease at bay, researchers said. Even if they have insurance, poor people often face many barriers to accessing health care.

In this way, income fundamentally shapes the opportunity to live a long and healthy life in the United States, Richards said.

On top of that, risk factors like smoking, obesity and diabetes are increasingly more common among low-income Americans, researchers said. The United States also invests less in policies that could improve the health of the poor, including paid childcare and medical leave and benefits for food and nutrition.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about heart health inequities.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, April 3, 2024

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