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Fewer Native Americans Getting Heart Disease

Study also sees deaths related to heart disease decline for American Indian men

Heart health puzzle

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New cases of heart disease among Native Americans has declined over the last generation, according to researchers at Washington State University.

The researchers analyzed data from 5,627 Native Americans living in the Southwest and the northern and southern Great Plains who participated in two long-running studies that looked at heart disease and related risk factors, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. They found that over a 25-year period, cardiovascular disease incidence decreased during follow-up among Native Americans who were ages 30 to 85.

In the same period, they also observed that cardiovascular disease mortality decreased in Native American men but not in women.

Heart disease deaths vary
by race and ethnicity

In 2017, the rate of deaths from heart disease was 165 per 100,000 people in the United States, but that prevalence differs widely by race and ethnicity.

• Black, not Hispanic: 208 per 100,000

• White, not Hispanic: 168.9

• Native American: 115.8

• Hispanic: 114.1

• Asian or Pacific Islander: 85.4

Note: Hispanics can be of any race.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

When the Strong Heart Study began in 1988, it found that Native Americans had the highest rates of heart disease and stroke among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States. The findings led to a strong emphasis within the participating communities on cardiovascular disease prevention, especially among patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, according to the researchers.

“Our findings strongly suggest that delivering on our federal mandate to provide high-quality accessible health care to our native people will reduce the health disparities seen in this population,” said lead author Clemma Muller, a researcher with the Washington State University Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health and an assistant professor in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

Despite fewer new cases, Native American men continue to have a high prevalence of heart disease. Muller suggested that may reflect the fact that men are living longer with the disease, as shown by the decrease in mortality.

Why the study found no similar reduction in death rates for women could be the result of a small sample size in the study, Muller said. She also suggested certain risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, may have increased for women.

“We need to more closely examine whether American Indian women and men are having different experiences with their health patterns — and why — so we can make sure improvements are experienced equally by both groups,” she said.

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