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Deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD) have been declining since the late 1960s, resulting in a substantial saving of lives, and in the extension of life for the Australian population, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

'If death rates for CVD and CHD had remained at their 1968 peak levels, the number of deaths due to these diseases would have been about four times as high as the actual number of deaths in 2006,' said report author Anne Broadbent.

In 2006, an estimated 187,000 Australian lives would have been lost to CVD, rather than the 45,670 actual deaths, representing a 'saving' of around 140,000 Australian lives in that year alone.

The report also estimates the effect of the decline on the years of life lost to Australians from premature death, and found that Australians have benefitted substantially.

'Australians aged 55 to 69 appear to have gained most in terms of lives 'saved' and years of life extended,' Ms Broadbent said.

Dr Lyn Roberts, the Heart Foundation's CEO-National said 'While we are pleased with the gains made, CVD remains the leading cause of death in Australia accounting for 34% of all deaths in 2006.

'Around 3.7 million Australians, or 19% of the population, have a long term cardiovascular condition, and CVD continues to have a major impact in terms of burden of disease and expenditure,' Dr Roberts said.

Between 1968 and 2006, the death rate from CVD fell by 76%, from 831 deaths per 100,000 people to 202 per 100,000.

Over the same period, the death rate from coronary heart disease (the most common form of CVD) declined from 428 to 102 per 100,000.

An estimated 90% of Australian adults may have at least one modifiable risk factor associated with CVD, indicating a potential for further gains in the future.

The report, Impact of falling cardiovascular disease death rates: deaths delayed and years of life extended, was funded by the Heart Foundation.

Dr Lyn Roberts will deliver an address, 'Fighting heart disease: past success and future challenges' to the National Press Club, Wednesday 15 April 2009.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Further information:

Anne Broadbent, AIHW, 02 6244 1204 or mob. 0418 271 395.

Nicole Osborne, Heart Foundation, 02 9219 2403 or mob. 0432 754 907

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1032.

Availability: Check the AIHW Publications area for the availability of Impact of falling cardiovascular disease death rates: deaths delayed and years of life extended.