Where you live could impact your risk for heart disease, study shows

Heart disease is responsible for 600,000 deaths every year in the United States, but a new study shows that your risk of developing the disease may extend beyond genes or lifestyle choices. It may be impacted by your ZIP code.

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After about five decades of decline, heart disease levels are rising among some groups. Now, researchers say that may be tied to factors related to areas recovering from the Great Recession.

"Our study shows that large economic trends — whether it's a significant reduction in employment or a recession — have a real impact on communities and on the cardiovascular health of people living in those communities," said Dr. Sameed Khatana, with the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Khatana and a team of researchers at the university found that middle-aged adults who live in communities that saw the greatest economic impact from the Great Recession were more likely to be at risk for heart disease and strokes.

The study found that rates remained unchanged in counties with low levels of economic distress, while areas with high rates of unemployment, lower median income and low levels of affordable housing saw an uptick from 122 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2010 to 127.6 deaths in 2015.

“Although it's known that the United States has experienced an uneven recovery following the Great Recession, it hasn't been clear whether economic factors contribute to the varying — and, in some cases, heightened — heart disease death rates in communities nationwide,” the report reads.

The researchers looked at county-level data from 2010 to 2015, examining cardiovascular mortality rates for adults ages 25 to 64.

They concluded that communities with the highest Distressed Community Index — which looks at seven categories of economic activity — had the highest rate of heart-related health problems and the highest increase in cardiovascular-related deaths from 2010 to 2015.

The Distressed Community Index took into account factors such as income, housing access and education level.

To determine the link between economic distress and heart disease levels, the researchers established a model that took into account factors like health insurance coverage and the number of providers.

"It's important that policymakers, physicians and even patients are aware of this increase in mortality rates. Interventions, such as policies like a health insurance expansion, may help slow this trend or even reverse it,” Khatana said.

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