Healthy lifestyle could halve heart disease deaths

Last updated at 12:08 10 January 2005

Heart disease deaths could be slashed by half with just small efforts to reduce the major risk factors, experts say.

Even minor reductions in current levels of cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking could save 50,000 lives a year in England and Wales, the Health Development Agency (HDA) said.

This would halve the current annual death toll of 100,000 due to coronary heart disease (CHD).

Medical interventions in recent years have led to more people surviving after suffering a heart attack or angina.

Reduce the need for treatment

But experts have long recommended that prevention of heart disease, by not smoking, eating a healthy diet and exercising, can reduce the need for treatment.

The HDA in its latest briefing paper - Relative contributions of changes in risk factors and treatment to the reduction of coronary heart disease mortality - urged England and Wales to follow the example of other countries.

Prof Mike Kelly, HDA director of evidence and guidance, said: "Reducing cholesterol levels by even a small amount would prevent approximately 25,000 fewer deaths each year.

"This is quite possible.

"These lower cholesterol levels were actually achieved in the USA and Scandinavia 10 years ago."

Prof Kelly said that reducing the percentage of people smoking to the lower levels seen in the US would lead to 17,000 fewer deaths each year.

"These two measures, along with a small reduction in the population's blood pressure, would result in 50,000 fewer deaths annually, thereby halving current CHD mortality," he said.

Drop in death rates

Death rates from CHD have already dropped significantly over 20 years.

There were more than 68,000 fewer heart disease deaths in 2000 compared to 1981.

The HDA said that 42% of this drop was due to medical and surgical treatments.

Around 58% of the decline was linked to improvements in the major risk factors - particularly the drop in the number of smokers.

But the HDA said this progress was partly offset by extra deaths caused by rises in obesity, diabetes and lack of exercise.

They said together these factors contributed to around 8,000 extra deaths.

Co-author Prof Simon Capewell, from the University of Liverpool, said small lifestyle changes could lead to "very rapid benefits".

"A reduction in smoking, cholesterol and blood pressure will result in fewer deaths within 12 to 24 months," he said.

Epidemic proportions

Prof Capewell said the risk factors for heart disease were well-known and most people knew what needed to be done to reduce the danger.

"The incidence of heart disease has reached epidemic proportions.

"CHD is the leading cause of death in this country and death rates in Liverpool and Merseyside are 30% higher than the UK as a whole," the researcher said.

The recently launched Heart of Mersey Coronary Heart Disease Programme is aiming to cut the unusually high number of deaths from the disease in Merseyside.

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