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While death rates for coronary heart disease (CHD) have fallen over the last few decades, the degree of improvement has slowed for younger and middle age groups, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Trends in coronary heart disease mortality: age groups and populations, shows that, overall, CHD death rates fell by over 70% between 1979 and 2010 for Australians aged 25 and over.

'In 1979, 29% of all deaths in Australia were from CHD, but by 2010 this proportion had fallen to 15%,' said AIHW spokesperson Sushma Mathur.

The annual number of CHD deaths fell from around 31,000 in 1979 to 21,700 in 2010.

'While these overall improvements are great news, rates are starting to slow down for people from their mid to late 20s to their late 60s.'

Between 1979 and 1993, for example, the average annual fall in CHD death rates for men aged 40-54 was 6.6%, slowing to 3.2% between 2000 and 2010. For women the corresponding annual declines were 7.4% between 1979 and 1997 and then slowing to 2.7% between 1997 and 2010.

'Unfavourable trends in some key risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, such as obesity, diet and lack of exercise, are thought to be behind the slowing of the decline in CHD deaths among these younger age groups,' Ms Mathur said.

'For men and women aged 70 years and over, who are most at risk of CHD death, mortality declines have continued to improve and are currently falling at a much higher rate of 5.1% per year.'

CHD mortality rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people remain higher than for Other Australians, but the levels of improvement are comparable or better.

Over the decade 2001-2002 to 2009-2010, Indigenous women saw greater declines in CHD mortality than other Australian women (an average annual decline of 4.1% compared to 3.5%). The mortality decline among Indigenous men was similar to that for other Australian men.

'Among geographic areas, Major cities generally experienced the greatest improvements compared with other areas, and lower socioeconomic status (SES) groups achieved less favourable results than higher SES groups,' Ms Mathur said.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 8 May 2014

Further information: Sushma Mathur, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1067, mob. 0407 915 851

Full publication: Trends in coronary heart disease mortality: age groups and populations