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Heart disease deaths continue to decline

21 April 2006

Heart disease deaths continue to decline

New Zealand is continuing to experience a decline in the risks of death from ischaemic heart disease (heart attacks and related conditions) since a peak in the late 1960s. This decline is occurring across almost all age groups in both men and women.

This is very good news. In the age groups studied (35-74 years), the chance of New Zealanders dying of a heart attack or related condition has been falling (by about 60%), with the most dramatic falls being seen in the older - and most at risk - age groups studied.

A study looking at projections of cardiovascular mortality carried out by cardiologists and Ministry of Health epidemiologists was published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today.

The Ministry of Health's Manager, Public Health Intelligence, (epidemiologist) Dr Barry Borman says "This improvement is as a result of a broad combination of factors, including a decline in smoking and improved nutrition. It is also a tribute to the range of organisations in the health sector and beyond that have focused on primary and secondary prevention of heart disease, the identification and treatment of risk factors and improved surgical treatment."

Overall the number of heart attack deaths in 35 to 74 year olds are projected to fall slightly despite the increasing number of older people in New Zealand. The actual number of deaths from heart disease in Maori is projected to rise slightly but this is a consequence of the increasing number of Maori entering the older age groups at most risk - even though the overall risk for Maori individuals is falling.

Dr Borman says "An area of continuing concern is the disparity between the risks of heart attack death between Maori and non-Maori. It is not possible in this study to identify the underlying determinants of the disparity. However, the study indicates that Maori may not have experienced the same degree of benefit from advances in prevention and treatment of heart disease. It is New Zealand's challenge to explore why this might be, and to develop new ways of reducing these persisting inequalities".

Another finding of concern is the possible increase in risk of heart disease for people born around 1960. The rise in obesity levels since this time may explain this finding, but it could not be tested in the study.

"This emphasises the importance of increasing the focus on preventing heart disease in younger generations. The Government's Health Eating, Healthy Action Strategy involves a wide range of organisations including District Health Boards (for example, Counties Manukau's Let's Beat Diabetes programme), Primary Health Organisations (which have specific new funding for health promotion), SPARC (for example the Push Play campaign and Green Prescriptions) schools (for example Fruit in Schools) the food industry, and a wide range of community groups.

"This strategy, with improvements in access to high quality treatment, will be critical to ensuring that gains made in recent decades are continued in future generations."


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