Cardiovascular risk factors are high throughout the U.S.

Some regions of the U.S., particularly in the South, are known for having high cardiovascular disease rates. Still, a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine on June 30 found at least three-quarters of people in each state had at least one cardiovascular risk factor.

The researchers analyzed two national data sets and found half of cardiovascular deaths in the U.S. in 2009 and 2010 were attributed to five common risk factors: elevated cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and smoking. Lead author Shivani A. Patel, PhD, told Cardiovascular Business the results did not surprise her, but she did not anticipate that 81.7 percent of men and 80.0 percent of women had at least one cardiovascular risk factor.

The results were consistent across the country even though previous research had shown there were dramatic differences in cardiovascular mortality depending on where people lived. In a state-by-state analysis, the proportion of people with at least one cardiovascular risk factor ranged from 75.7 percent to 86.6 percent.

“We were expecting that the healthier states would be doing much better,” said Patel, a social epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta. “The burdens of cardiovascular mortality didn’t look to be that unique across the states. It seemed to be that whatever we found nationally was pretty much replicated within each of the states.”

Whereas most other studies examined eliminating risk factors, Patel and her colleagues considered a more realistic alternative: bringing all states down to the risk factor levels observed in the best states. Under that scenario, preventable cardiovascular mortality associated with the individual risk factors ranged from 2 percent to 5 percent in men and 0 percent to 7 percent in women.

“Usually people estimate this as an all-or-nothing game,” Patel said. “But we know that it’s going to be pretty tough to eliminate all obesity…Feasibly, risk reduction may actually be able to prevent far fewer deaths than that full 50 percent.”

Patel and her colleagues used national, publicly available data, so they hope these results could spark further research. They want them to serve as a benchmark for how states are progressing over time.

-Tim Casey
Executive Editor