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Public EnemiesHarvey Chan

Public Enemies

5 Notorious Killers

No. 1 Top Killer

Cardiovascular Disease

As a killer, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is in a class by itself: Worldwide, it’s responsible for 30 percent of all deaths—about 17 million a year. In developed countries, it’s the principal cause for half of all deaths.

 There’s an irony about this apex killer: Mortality from CVD is down by 50 percent over the past several decades. “Heart disease is definitely an amazing success story,” says Josef Coresh, MD, PhD ’92, MHS ’92, an Epidemiology professor and director of the George W. Comstock Center for Public Health Research and Prevention. Changes in diet and exercise as well as the use of statin drugs have sent rates of fatal heart attacks plummeting.


Women are more likely to die of heart disease than men. That’s partly because women live longer than men, increasing their chances of dying from this persistent killer.


CVD mortality rates have declined dramatically in white men and women; less so in black women and least of all in black men, according to Coresh and others. Why? Half a century ago, it was a disease of affluence, says Coresh, when affluence was associated with excessive smoking and eating, and little exercise.

Final Take

“In terms of survival, we in the U.S. have been doing better for the past 40 years when it comes to heart disease. Not so for those who are now behaving like we once did—eating high-fat diets, moving less, smoking more. Heart disease is a growing problem in Eastern Europe, China and the Middle East.”



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