What Social Factors May Mean for Heart Health

Socioeconomic factors linked to rise in heart disease deaths in the US

Heart disease deaths have been declining for decades, but that may not be the case for long.

According to a first of its kind scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA), deaths from heart attacks, strokes and other heart diseases have declined in recent years.

However, social factors — including race, income, environment and education — could soon reverse that trend.

"The steady decline of death from cardiovascular disease that began in the 1970s might be coming to an end," said lead study author Edward P. Havranek, MD, a cardiologist at Denver Health Medical Center and a professor of cardiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in a press release.

According to Dr. Havranek and team, while death from heart disease has been declining, that decline has not been enjoyed equally across all socioeconomic, racial or ethnic groups.

The AHA statement cited multiple studies on societal factors, including as education, income, employment, race, ethnicity and access to healthcare, and their influences on heart health.

Dr. Havarenek and team found that education had one of the strongest links to heart disease death, with people of lower education levels being the most at risk.

The lower the income level, the greater the risk for heart disease was also.

The AHA cited the National Longitudinal Mortality Study, which found a 40 to 50 percent decrease in mortality with increasing levels of family income.

"We need to learn more about why that is, but contributing factors could include less access to healthy food, less opportunity for physical activity, higher stress levels with higher crime, noise, traffic, etc.," Dr. Havarenek said.

The statement also addressed the overlap between race and poverty in the US.

"Whether or not bias and prejudice lead to less care or poorer care is an area that people are actively studying," Dr. Havranek said. "There also is evidence that people who experience the chronic stressors, such as racism, might have higher blood pressure as a result."

To combat the rise, the AHA called for education of younger generations and for better urban planning to foster healthy lifestyles.

According to the AHA, the number of heart disease cases in the US is expected to rise by about 10 percent between 2010 and 2030.

Addressing the social, biological and genetic influences on heart health may be necessary to achieve what the AHA called a "culture of health."

This statement was published August 3 in the journal Circulation.

The study authors disclosed ties to the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.