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November 19, 2019

Heart disease more prevalent in counties hit hardest by 2008 economic recession

The research was presented during the American Heart Association’s 2019 Scientific Sessions conference in Philadelphia this week

Adult Health Heart Disease

Between 2010-2015, U.S. communites under the greatest economic pressure saw cardiovascular mortality rates sharpy increase. These rates had steadily declined in the U.S. since the 1950s, but have been stagnant since 2011.

The devastating impact of the 2008 economic recession has had lasting effects on the health of the communities hardest hit by it, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

Research presented Monday at the American Heart Association’s 2019 Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia shows that heart disease mortality climbed during a five-year period among the counties that saw the worst economic strain following the recession.

Counties that saw minimal economic distress had practically no change in the number of deaths attributed to heart disease during the same period.

"Our study shows that large economic trends — whether it's a significant reduction in employment or a recession — have a real impact on communities and on the cardiovascular health of people living in those communities," said the study's lead author Sameed Khatana, a cardiovascular medicine fellow at Penn Medicine.

Khatana's team looked at county-level cardiovascular mortality rates from 2010-2015 for adults ages 25-64. They also used the Distressed Communities index to compare county-level values for income, access to housing, educational attainment and other economic markers.

The study then looked at health factors at the county level, such as health insurance coverage, the prevalence of obesity and diabetes and density of primary care providers.

Cardiovascular death rates actually dipped slightly in counties with the least economic distress (62.6 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2010; 61.5 in 2015). Areas under the greatest economic strain saw a sharp increase in cardiovascular death rates (122 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2010 to 127.6 deaths in 2015).

“It’s important that policymakers, physicians and even patients are aware of this increase in mortality rates," Khatana said. "Interventions, such as policies like a health insurance expansion, may help slow this trend or even reverse it.”

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