Questions for Melonie Heron, Demographer and Lead Author on “Changes in the Leading Cause of Death: Recent Patterns in Heart Disease and Cancer Mortality”
Q: How have trends in deaths from heart disease and cancer changed since 1950?
MH: Since 1950, the number of heart disease deaths generally increased (by 43%) to a peak in 1985, declined (by 23%) from 1985 through 2011, then increased again (by 3%) from 2011 through 2014. In contrast, the number of cancer deaths nearly tripled from 1950 through 2014.
Q: Is it inevitable that cancer will ultimately pass heart disease as the leading cause of death in the U.S.?
MH: Because of the declining gap between heart disease and cancer deaths, it was expected that cancer would overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death in the U.S. in the early 2010s. However, the reversal in trend for heart disease deaths in 2012 changed that. It remains to be seen whether the uptick in heart disease deaths will be sustained.
Q: Where do heart disease and cancer rank as leading causes of death at the state level, and how has that changed over the years?
MH: Heart disease was the leading cause of death for all U.S. states, with cancer as the second leading cause. In 1990, Alaska became the first state to experience a switch in ranks between these two causes. In 2000, Minnesota experienced the same switch. As of 2014, there are now 22 states with cancer as the leading cause of death.
Q: How have heart disease and cancer changed as leading causes of death among different race/ethnic groups over time?
MH: For the non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black populations, heart disease has consistently been the leading-cause of death, with cancer as the second leading cause. That remained the case in 2014. However, for the non-Hispanic Asian or Pacific Islander and Hispanic populations, cancer deaths have been increasing more than heart disease deaths. Cancer replaced heart disease as the leading cause of death for the non-Hispanic API population in 2000, and for the Hispanic population in 2009.
Q: What do you think is the most significant finding is in your new study?
MH: Despite a narrowing of the gap between heart disease and cancer deaths over time, especially since the 1980s, heart disease remained the leading cause of death for the total U.S. population and for the non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black populations in 2014. This was due, in large part, to a recent increase in heart disease deaths. However, in the non-Hispanic API and Hispanic populations, as well as in 22 states, the mortality burden of cancer has surpassed that of heart disease such that cancer is now the leading cause of death.
In honor of American Heart Month, it is important to note that almost 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, accounting for approximately 307,000 deaths for men and 290,000 deaths for women in 2010.
During 2000–2001 through 2010–2011, the prevalence of lifetime respondent-reported heart disease among adults aged 18–54 was similar for men and women. Among adults aged 55 and over, heart disease prevalence was higher for men than for of men aged 75 and over reported having ever been told by a physician they had heart disease, compared with nearly one-third (31%) of women in the same age group.
As a farewell to “American Heart Month,” here’s a brief synopsis of why the heart and its health affects so many of us:
Heart disease is the nation’s leading cause of death, responsible for 629,191 deaths in 2006 (National Vital Statistics System, 2006).
Heart disease is the nation’s leading diagnosis for hospitalization, at 4.2 million (National Hospital Discharge Survey, 2006).
Over 24 million visits to physician offices in 2006 resulted in a diagnoses of heart disease (National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 2006).
About 11% of U.S. adults have ever been told by a doctor or other health professional they had heart disease (National Health Interview Survey, 2007).
About one in six Americans aged 20 years and over has elevated blood pressure and one in four has hypertension (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2001-2004).
Every week the National Center for Health Statistics produces a feature called QuickStats for the CDC’s publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report which highlights interesting and relevant data from NCHS data collection programs.
This week it highlights hospitalizations rates for coronary atherosclerosis and acute myocardial infarction for the period 1996-2005. These data come from the National Hospital Discharge Survey.