Heart disease declining, but still claims 50,000 lives a year

Despite a steady decline in death rates over the last 20 years, cardiovascular disease still claims more than 50,000 lives a year, with Indigenous Australians and people in the lower socioeconomic groups by far the hardest hit.

These facts are contained in Australia's most significant report into the impact of cardiovascular disease-Heart, stroke and vascular diseases: Australian facts 2001-to be jointly released on Monday by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the National Heart Foundation of Australia.

The report shows that cardiovascular disease is still Australia's number one killer despite national death rates falling about 4% a year since the late 1980s.

Indigenous Australians suffer cardiovascular death rates seven to ten times those of the average Australian. It is also a fact that the most disadvantaged people in Australian society are at least twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease as those least disadvantaged.

Heart disease risk factor expert, Dr Tim Armstrong, of the AIHW's CVD and Risk Factor Monitoring Unit, said that eight out of 10 adult Australians are either physically inactive, overweight, have high blood pressure or smoke cigarettes-all risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

'And if we look at the risk factors individually, we find that over half the adult population is overweight or obese, almost half the adult population has higher than desirable cholesterol levels, 29% have high blood pressure, and about 44% do insufficient physical activity', Dr Armstrong said.

The Heart Foundation's Principal Executive Officer, Professor Andrew Tonkin, said a large part of the deaths, disability and illness caused by cardiovascular disease was preventable because people could act to minimise their exposure to risk factors.
'People also need to realise that the cardiovascular disease public health problem is not so much the result of individuals with one marked abnormality within one risk factor-such as a cholesterol level of 10, or a blood pressure level of 200. It is more the result of individuals with minor abnormalities across a number of risk factor areas,' Professor Tonkin said.

'This clustering of risk factors is very common in people with diabetes.'

'By 2020, cardiovascular disease is expected to replace nutritional deficiencies and transmissible diseases as the leading global health problem.'

The report also outlines major changes in the treatment and care of the disease, with a dramatic increase in the use of lipid lowering drugs and coronary stenting.

Heart, stroke and vascular diseases 2001 was produced by the AIHW and the National Heart Foundation in conjunction with the National Stroke Foundation of Australia, Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care and the International Diabetes Institute.

30 April 2001


Media inquiries: Ms Michelle Wells AIHW, 0407 483 411 or 0407 012 520 (mobile), tel. 02 6244 1012
Ms Karen McGrath, NHF, tel. 03 9321 1545 or mobile 0411 608 034
Media copies of report: Publications Officer, AIHW tel. 02 6244 1032