Poorer counties have higher heart failure death rates

By American Heart Association News

DenisTangney/E+, Getty Images
(DenisTangney/E+, Getty Images)

Americans who live in counties with high poverty rates are more likely to die from heart failure compared to people living in more affluent areas, new research says.

The prevalence of diabetes and obesity largely explained the link, said the researchers, whose work was published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.  

Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood. For each 1% increase in a county's poverty status, researchers saw heart failure deaths increase by about 5 per 100,000 people.

About two-thirds of the relationship between poverty and heart failure deaths was explained by the prevalence of diabetes and obesity, said the researchers, who were led by Dr. Khansa Ahmad at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

They reviewed data about heart failure, poverty, education, unemployment and health insurance status from 3,155 counties. Data was pulled from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Census Bureau databases.

The link between poverty and heart failure deaths was strongest in the South. The study saw a difference of approximately 250 deaths per 100,000 people between the poorest and the most affluent counties.

"This study underscores the disparities in health care faced by many Americans," said Dr. Jennifer Ellis in a news release. Ellis, who was not involved in the new study, is chief of cardiothoracic surgery at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue in New York and is an adviser to the American Heart Association's EmPOWERED to Serve, which addresses health justice.

"As health care providers, we need to understand the barriers to a healthy lifestyle faced by patients, such as living in areas with no access to healthy food or safe places to walk."

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