Is the long-term decline in cardiovascular-disease mortality in high-income countries over? Evidence from national vital statistics

Int J Epidemiol. 2019 Dec 1;48(6):1815-1823. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyz143.


Background: The substantial decline in cardiovascular-disease (CVD) mortality in high-income countries has underpinned their increasing longevity over the past half-century. However, recent evidence suggests this long-term decline may have stagnated, and even reversed in younger populations. We assess recent CVD-mortality trends in high-income populations and discuss the findings in relation to trends in risk factors.

Methods: We used vital statistics since 2000 for 23 high-income countries published in the World Health Organization Mortality Database. Age-standardized CVD death rates by sex for all ages, and at ages 35-74 years, were calculated and smoothed using LOWESS regression. Findings were contrasted with the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study.

Results: The rate of decline in CVD mortality has slowed considerably in most countries in recent years for both males and females, particularly at ages 35-74 years. Based on the latest year of data, the decline in the CVD-mortality rate at ages 35-74 years was <2% (about half the annual average since 2000) for at least one sex in more than half the countries. In North America (US males and females, Canada females), the CVD-mortality rate even increased in the most recent year. The GBD Study estimates, after correcting for misdiagnoses, suggest an even more alarming reversal, with CVD death rates rising in seven countries for at least one sex in 2017. The rate of decline and initial level of CVD mortality appear largely unrelated.

Conclusions: A significant slowdown in CVD-mortality decline is now apparent across high-income countries with diverse epidemiological environments. High and increasing obesity levels, limited potential future gains from further reducing already low smoking prevalence, especially in English-speaking countries, and persistent inequalities in mortality risk pose significant challenges for public policy to promote better cardiovascular health.

Keywords: Medical subject headings; cardiovascular diseases; cause of death; heart diseases; mortality; stroke.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Cause of Death
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Databases, Factual
  • Developed Countries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Global Burden of Disease / statistics & numerical data*
  • Global Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Vital Statistics
  • World Health Organization
  • Young Adult