By Mike Stobbe
NEW YORK –Your heart might be older than you are. A new government report suggests age is just a number – and perhaps not a very telling one when it comes to your risk of heart attack or stroke.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report takes a new approach to try to spur more Americans to take steps to prevent cardiovascular disease. CDC scientists estimated the average “heart age” of men and women in every state, based on risk factors like high blood pressure, obesity, and whether they smoke or have diabetes. Then it compared the numbers to average actual ages.
Nearly three out of four America adults have a heart that’s older than the rest of their body, according to CDC calculations.
For America men on average, the predicted heart age was nearly eight years greater than their real age. For America women, it was about five-and-a-half years.
“This is alarming. Heart disease is the nation’s number one killer,” said the report’s lead author, CDC scientists Quanhe Yang.
“But the bottom line is you can do some very simple things” to become younger at heart, he said.
Each year, one in four U.S. deaths is due to heart disease. Many are heart attacks and strokes. The average age of first heart attack is about 64 1/2 for men and 72 for women, according to the American Heart Association.
The nation’s heart disease death rate has been falling thanks to advances in prevention and treatment, including drugs to control blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
But heart disease remains America’s leading cause of death and health officials have been pushing to get more people to control their weight, quit smoking and take other steps to help their heart and blood vessels.
The CDC is leading a “Million Hearts” campaign, launched in 2012 to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. CDC scientists were intrigued by a heart age calculation developed by other researchers conducting a large study in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Some research has indicated that Framingham heart age calculations have resonated more with patients than more conventional medical advice and warnings, so CDC researchers used the Framingham model – and CDC national survey data – to produce the first report on heart age across the nation.
CDC officials released the report Tuesday.
“It gives a stark, simple picture of your future risk of having – or dying from – heart attack or stroke,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.
The estimates were specific to adults 30 to 74 who have not had a heart attack or stroke.
Mississippi has the highest proportion of adults with advanced heart age, followed by West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Alabama. Those states also have higher rates of smoking, obesity, and other heart disease risk factors.
Utah and Colorado had the lowest proportions of people with a heart age five years or greater than their actual age, followed by California, Hawaii and Massachusetts .
The study also found that for blacks nationally, heart age was 11 years greater than actual age. The gap was much smaller for whites and Hispanics.
On Tuesday, CDC also officials shared the Framingham study’s online heart age prediction calculator for individuals to assess themselves. People have to know their systolic blood pressure – the higher of the two measurements – to generate an estimate.