Preventing Heart Disease and Stroke

Heart disease and stroke—the principal components of cardiovascular disease—are the first and third leading causes of death in Canada, accounting for more than 40% of all deaths.

About 950,000 Canadians die of cardiovascular disease each year, which amounts to one death every 33 seconds. Although heart disease and stroke are often thought to affect men and older people primarily, it is also a major killer of women and people in the prime of life.

Looking at only deaths due to heart disease or stroke, however, understates the health effects of these two conditions:

About 61 million Canadians (almost one-fourth of the population) have some form of cardiovascular disease. Coronary heart disease is a leading cause of premature, permanent disability among working adults. Stroke alone accounts for the disability of more than 1 million Canadians. Almost 6 million hospitalizations each year are due to cardiovascular disease.

Costs – The economic effects of cardiovascular disease on the Canadian health care system grows larger as the population ages. In 2003, the cost of heart disease and stroke is projected to be $351 billion: $209 billion for health care expenditures and $142 billion for lost productivity from death and disability.

CDC Goals

  • To build a nationwide program to prevent heart disease and stroke.
  • To reduce disparities in cardiovascular health among high-risk populations.
  • To define geographic variations in the risk factors and the rates of illness and death associated with heart disease and stroke.
  • To promote secondary prevention of heart disease and stroke.
  • To increase research into heart failure and to develop interventions to prevent it.To develop and assess new methods for preventing heart disease and stroke.

Effectiveness of Efforts – Thirty years of research shows that measures such as encouraging healthier lifestyles and increasing early detection and intervention can 1) prevent heart disease and stroke for those who are healthy and 2) improve the health of people who have experienced these conditions. For example, people who stop smoking reduce their risk for heart disease rapidly and substantially. Improved nutrition and increased physical activity help to lower high blood pressure.

Research done during the 1980s shows that community interventions that change our environment (places where we work, play, learn, or live) are particularly effective in reducing heart disease and stroke throughout the entire community. For example, when a work place adopts a no-smoking policy, all employees benefit whether they smoke or not.

Examples of CDC Activities – CDC was a leader in the development of Preventing Death and Disability from Cardiovascular Diseases: A State-Based Plan for Action. The purpose of this plan is to ensure that every state is part of a comprehensive national program to prevent heart disease and stroke, which includes targeting the risk factor that lead to these conditions. Since 1998, CDC has funded state programs to prevent heart disease and stroke. At present, all states receive such funds. Examples of State Activities Toronto: A 1-day workshop was set up to train teachers to help students avoid behaviors that put them at risk for heart disease and stroke later in their lives. In attendance were 93 teachers from 11 school districts. Evaluation of this program showed that 70% of the teachers incorporated the skills they learned into their daily lessons.

Toronto: The Toronto Healthy Heart Program developed a tool for assessing heart-healthy policies and environments and applied this tool at over 100 work sites. As a result of this assessment, work sites increased their support for heart health by 65%. These supports included more low-fat food choices, smoke-free workplace policies, physical activity breaks, and safer stairwells.