Background: Coronary heart disease has been a major cause of mortality in Australian adults, but the rate has declined by 83% from the 1968 peak by the year 2000. The study objective is to determine the contribution of changes in population risk factors - mean serum cholesterol and diastolic blood pressure and tobacco smoking prevalence - to the decline in coronary heart disease mortality in Australia over three decades.
Methods: Coronary heart disease deaths (International Classification of Disease-9, 410-414) and population by year, age group and sex were obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Risk factor levels were obtained from population surveys and estimated average annual changes by period were used to calculate average annual 'attributable' proportional declines in CHD mortality by period (age 35-64 years).
Results: Over the period 1968-2000, 74% of male decline and 81% of the female decline in coronary heart disease mortality rate was accounted for by the combined effect of reductions in the three risk factors. In males 36% of the decline was contributed by reductions in diastolic blood pressure, 22% by cholesterol and 16% by smoking. For females 56% was from diastolic blood pressure reduction, 20% from cholesterol and 5% from smoking. Effects of reductions in serum cholesterol on coronary heart disease mortality occurred mainly in the 1970s. Declines in diastolic blood pressure had effects on coronary heart disease mortality over the three decades, and declines in tobacco smoking had a significant effect in males in the 1980s.
Conclusion: Most of the spectacular decline in coronary heart disease mortality over the last three decades in Australia can be ascribed to reductions in population risk factors from primary and secondary prevention.