Heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases are responsible for one third of deaths among Americans, according to the most recent data available, which is for the year 2013.

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43% of Americans have levels of cholesterol that raise their risk for cardiovascular disease.

The American Heart Association (AHA) 2016 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update – published online this week – also reports that heart disease and stroke are the two top killers worldwide.

AHA President Dr. Mark Creager says it is important to collect and publish rates of cardiovascular disease and stroke, the proportion of deaths related to the diseases and the factors that contribute to them, because it helps to track the effectiveness of efforts to tackle them.

He says while there has been progress in reducing deaths from heart disease and stroke, the numbers are still too high.

In 2013, there were 801,000 American deaths due to cardiovascular diseases, including over 370,000 to heart disease and nearly 129,000 to stroke.

The figures also show that 750,000 Americans had a heart attack and about 795,000 had a stroke that year. About 116,000 (16%) of the people who had a heart attack died.

Stroke is the leading preventable cause of disability in the US. The risk of having a first-ever stroke is nearly twice as high among black adults as among white adults.

The Update has been produced every year since 1958 and has expanded over the decades to cover health disparities.

It also now tracks seven factors relating to cardiovascular health: smoking, exercise, diet, body weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

The following summarizes the latest statistics on what the AHA refer to as Life’s Simple 7:

  • Smoking: while cigarette smoking among Americans has dropped by 30% since 1994, nearly 19% of men and 15% of women in the US were smokers in 2014
  • Exercise: about 1 in 3 adults in the US does not engage in physical activity outside work
  • Diet: there has been an improvement in the proportion of Americans following a healthy diet – from 0.7% to 1.5% of adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012 and from 0.2% to 0.6% of children in the same period
  • Body weight: only 31% of American adults (68% of children) were not overweight or obese during 2009-2012
  • Cholesterol: only 57% of Americans had levels of cholesterol in the desirable range (up to 200 mg/dL) in 2009-2012
  • Blood pressure: around 1 in 3 Americans had high blood pressure in 2009-2012
  • Blood sugar: nearly 1 in 10 Americans has diagnosed diabetes, while over one third have pre-diabetes.

Dr. David S. Siscovick, who chairs the AHA Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, says these figures show there is a lot of room for improvement in the prevention and management of cardiovascular diseases. The challenge is to make it part of American culture, he notes.

The situation in the US is reflected globally – cardiovascular disease is also the top killer globally, and high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes are now global epidemics.

The AHA Update reports that 31% of all deaths globally in 2013 were due to cardiovascular diseases, with four fifths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Nearly 12% of all deaths worldwide that year were stroke-related.

Dr. Creager says we need to keep up efforts to boost cardiovascular health through lifestyle changes, while also recognizing and treating the risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. He sums up what he sees in the latest statistics:

We’ve made progress in the fight against cardiovascular disease, but the battle is not won.”

Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently reported how a study examining cardiorespiratory fitness in early adulthood finds it has long-term cardiovascular benefits. The study is unusual because most research in this area focuses on older adults.