Heart disease statistics gathered from more than 45 countries show risk factors

A decline in deaths from heart attack and stroke in high income countries could be threatened by rising rates of obesity and diabetes, according to a study by European heart experts.

The study also finds that the UK is lagging behind many lower income countries in some aspects of heart disease prevention.

The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) study involved academics from across the UK and Europe, including the University of Leeds, and analysed cardiovascular disease statistics for 56 member countries. The countries included European nations as well as Russia, the former Soviet states, North Africa and parts of the Middle East.

Published in the European Heart Journal, the analysis shows that huge inequalities persist with heart disease accounting for over 50 per cent of all deaths in many middle income countries, compared with less than 30 per cent in the high income countries of Western Europe.

Just under half of the middle income countries saw an increase in disease prevalence over the last 25 years, unlike high income countries where there have been small but consistent declines.

The study says the decline in cardiac disease mortality in Western Europe has come from a reduction in fatal heart attacks and stroke. That is now being threatened by the rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes – risk factors in heart disease. The authors described it as a “…tragedy waiting to happen” and they noted “… already there are concerns about plateauing of cardiovascular mortality rates in younger adults.”

The statistics also reveal that while the UK performs well in some aspects of heart disease prevention, it is doing comparatively badly in terms of others.

However, the UK has the lowest prevalence of raised blood pressure at 15.2 per cent of the population, compared to an average of 24.2 per cent amongst 47 countries, and prevalence of smoking is among the lowest in Europe. This contributes to the UK’s position in the lower half of the cardiovascular mortality rankings for European Society of Cardiology member countries.

Chris Gale, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Leeds and a co-author in the study, said: “Whilst the UK has seen a decline in deaths due to cardiovascular disease, one should not lose sight of the fact that key risk factors for cardiovascular disease are on the upturn.

“In particular, in the UK we have seen an increase in the incidence of diabetes and childhood obesity.

“Tackling the epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes must be a NHS and public health priority to ensure that the UK continues to reduce the health and wealth burden of cardiovascular disease, and that a legacy of stroke, ischaemic heart disease and myocardial infarction (heart attack) is prevented.”

The study involved an international collaboration of researchers from the Universities of Leeds, Queen Mary London, Oxford and East Anglia with academic colleagues in wider Europe.

The study used data from the World Health Organisation, World Bank, the European Society of Cardiology and the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation. The authors warn the limitations that apply to the quality, precision and availability of the data demand cautious interpretation.