Are heart disease mortality rates on the rise again?

Written by Ilana Landau, Editor

New research, assessing national vital statistics from 23 high-income countries, has observed that the decline in cardiovascular disease (CVD)-associated mortality, that has been notable over the last 50 years, has halted and, in some instances, reversed.

Over the last half-century, there has been a steady and significant decline in cardiovascular disease (CVD)-related mortality rates in high-income countries. Consequently, many such countries display aging population demographics. However, new research, assessing recent epidemiological data, suggests that this long-term decline in CVD mortality may have halted, or even reversed.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne (VIC, Australia) analyzed national vital statistics from 23 high-income countries, since 2000, in order to evaluate trends in CVD-related deaths. The data were obtained from the World Health Organization Mortality Database. LOWESS regression was employed to calculate age-standardized CVD death rates by sex, for all ages. The study findings were contrasted with those from the Global Burden of Disease Study.

In 12 of the 23 countries investigated, researchers observed that CVD-associated mortality rates amongst individuals aged 35—74 years have almost stopped declining. In the UK, Australia and New Zealand, the declines in CVD mortality rates over the last year were 20–50% lower than average decreases recorded since 2000.

Last year, CVD-associated death rates increased in the USA.

Researchers suggest that the rising incidence of obesity may be a significant contributing factor the observed trends. Alan Lopez, University of Melbourne expert on the global burden of disease, commented: “Each of these countries have very high levels of obesity. In Australia, close to one-third of adults are obese…These increases in obesity levels mean that a significant portion of the population has been exposed to the cardiovascular disease risks associated with being overweight for several decades.”

However, obesity and poor diet are not the only factors that contribute to CVD-related mortality; smoking frequency, hypertension and hyperlipidemia, amongst others, are also critical to consider.

Tim Adair, researcher at the University of Melbourne and study co-author, stated: “In order to combat this, significant investment in preventive health measures is needed, particularly those aimed at increasing physical activity, improving diet and reducing obesity…Failure to address these issues could confirm the end of the long-term decline in cardiovascular disease deaths and threaten future gains in life expectancy.”


Lopez AD, Adair T. Is the long-term decline in cardiovascular-disease mortality in high-income countries over? Evidence from national vital statistics. Int. J. Epidemiol. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyz143 (Epub ahead of print) (2019);,-research-finds