At least 200,000 deaths due to heart disease and stroke can be prevented each year by quitting smoking, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, and taking aspirin when recommended by a physician, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a study published Tuesday in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers found that the rate of avoidable deaths from cardiovascular disease had dropped 29% from 2001 to 2010.
However, researchers found the pattern of decline differed by age, race and state of residence. They concluded that more could be done to address the problem.
"These findings are really striking. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of deaths that don't have to happen," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said at a press briefing Tuesday. "It's possible for us to make rapid and substantial progress in reducing these deaths."
In the United States, roughly 800,000 people die of heart disease and stroke each year, the report says. That's nearly 30% of all U.S. deaths, every year. (Life expectancy for the entire U.S. population is currently 78.7 years.)
Although rates of avoidable death dropped most substantially for people age 65 to 74, it remained unchanged for people under the age of 65, according to lead study author and epidemiologist Linda Schieb and her colleagues.
Also, the avoidable-death rate among blacks was nearly twice that of whites, while counties with the highest avoidable-death rates were concentrated in the nation's Southern states.
In 2010, the states with the highest avoidable-death rates were primarily in the South, including Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana and Washington, D.C.
"It's unfortunate, but your longevity may be more likely to be influenced by your ZIP code than by your genetic code," Frieden said.
Study authors speculated that some of the disaparities were the result of access to health insurance, and noted that Medicare eligibility begins at age 65.
"Many heart disease and stroke deaths could be avoided through improvements in lifestyle behaviors, treatment of risk factors, and addressing the social determinants of health (i.e. economic and social conditions that influence the health of individuals and communities)," study authors wrote.
"Unhealthy lifestyle behaviors (e.g. tobacco use, infrequent physical activity, poor diet and excessive alcohol use) coupled with uncontrolled hypertension, elevated cholesterol, and obesity account for 80% of ischemic heart disease mortality and approximately 50% of stroke mortality in high-income countries such as the United States."