Kaiser Permanente Study Finds National Rates of Death Due to Heart Disease and Stroke Leveling Off

Featured Story
male doctor in white lab coat with stethoscope shakes the hand of a man wearing a hawaiian shirt

OAKLAND, Calif., — After more than a decade of steady improvements, the decline in mortality rates from heart disease and stroke has slowed nationally and nearly leveled out since 2011, according to a new analysis from Kaiser Permanente published in JAMA Cardiology.

“Continued innovation is essential in our efforts to address the ongoing challenge of cardiovascular disease prevention,” said lead author Stephen Sidney, MD, MPH, director of research clinics at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research.

Kaiser Permanente researchers analyzed publicly available data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research (or WONDER) data system, for 2000 to 2014. They determined national trends in age-adjusted mortality for cardiovascular disease, heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Between 2000 and 2011, researchers found the national heart-related mortality rate declined an average of 3.7 percent per year, while stroke mortality declined 4.5 percent per year. During this time, total cardiovascular mortality, including from heart disease and stroke, declined an average of 3.8 percent annually. Since 2011, however, the decline in these rates has slowed to less than 1 percent per year.

Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States since 1921, according to the CDC. Since then, population-level declines in mortality from heart disease have been attributed to advances in medical treatment and prevention; the increased use of statins and aspirin; the focus on lifestyle-related risk factors such as smoking and physical activity; and public health campaigns targeting high blood pressure.

Senior author Jamal S. Rana, MD, PhD, Kaiser Permanente cardiologist and adjunct investigator with the Division of Research, said that increases in obesity and diabetes, both well-established risk factors in the development of heart disease, may be to blame.

“Despite significant improvements in heart health over the past century, the increase in these chronic health conditions in epidemic proportions may be driving the recent slowdown,” Dr. Rana said.

The American Heart Association has established a strategic goal of reducing deaths from both cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20 percent between 2010 and 2020.

“Total mortality from cardiovascular disease and stroke would need to decrease by more than 2 percent annually, much higher than the recent rate of decline,” Dr. Sidney said. “If this deceleration trend continues, these public health goals may not be reached.”

By comparison, the researchers found that mortality from cancer has declined at a steady rate of 1.5 percent annually from 2000 to 2014.

“From 2000 to 2011, cancer was on track to bypass heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States. Based on the current findings, this may not happen,” Dr. Rana said. “Given this startling trend, the cardiovascular health care community needs to reaffirm its commitment to developing innovative ways to improve heart disease prevention at the population level.”

The Kaiser Permanente researchers will next analyze how the health care system’s heart disease and mortality rates compare with the national trends in recent years.

In addition to Drs. Sidney and Rana, co-authors of the study were Charles P. Quesenberry, Jr., PhD, Michael Sorel, MPH, Mai N. Nguyen-Huynh, MD, Lawrence H. Kushi, ScD, Alan S. Go, MD, Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research; and Marc G. Jaffe, MD, Kaiser Permanente South San Francisco Medical Center.

About the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research
The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research conducts, publishes and disseminates epidemiologic and health services research to improve the health and medical care of Kaiser Permanente members and society at large. It seeks to understand the determinants of illness and well-being, and to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care. Currently, DOR’s 550-plus staff is working on more than 350 epidemiological and health services research projects. For more information, visit www.dor.kaiser.org or follow us @KPDOR.

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 10.6 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/share.