Among healthcare professionals, it is common knowledge that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with both longstanding and newly diagnosed patients seen frequently in inpatient and outpatient settings. Cardiovascular disease can result in severe disability which can significantly reduce an individual’s quality of life. In March 2021, an article was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reviewing the relationship between population-wide cardiovascular health and the frequency of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks. No such comprehensive analysis had been performed before and results were eye-opening.
Using survey data from 2011 to 2016, US adults were divided into three groups based on cardiac health scores. Subjects with higher scores were deemed to be in better health from a cardiovascular standpoint. It should come as no surprise that poor cardiovascular health throughout the population is related to increased acute cardiovascular events. However, the magnitude of the results is shocking. Investigators found that only 7.3% of US adults included in the study had a high-level of cardiovascular health. It was estimated that 2 million cardiovascular events could be prevented each year if all US adults obtained a high level of cardiovascular health. If all those with a low cardiac health score moved into a moderate risk category, 1.2 million events could be prevented per year.
When discussing cardiovascular health, the importance of nutrition cannot be overstated. It is estimated that if all US adults maintained an ideal diet, 42.2% of cardiac events could be prevented. Although this goal may seem farfetched, its theoretical implications are far-reaching. Indeed, most cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke are preventable.
It is enticing to contemplate the dollars saved from this figure. It is estimated that 1 of every six healthcare dollars is spent managing this disease category every year in the United States. Indirect costs related to lost productivity are staggering and are estimated to exceed a quarter trillion dollars by 2030. Given the significant societal costs associated with cardiovascular disease, it is paramount to address it full force. According to a recent Commonwealth Fund cross-national comparison using health data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States spends more on healthcare than any other country, yet possesses the highest chronic disease burden and highest number of hospitalizations from preventable causes. This is unacceptable.
According to the American Heart Association, programs shown to reduce the impact of cardiovascular disease have received limited congressional resources. These programs focus heavily on reducing risk factors and disparities in healthcare. More focus and resources should be directed at these programs. Assisting patients in becoming healthier is the responsibility of every healthcare provider. However, primary care physicians play a pivotal role in keeping patients healthy and preventing chronic disease. Policymakers should continue to advance efforts to increase access to care and relinquish financial barriers. The numbers surrounding cardiovascular disease, and chronic illness in general, are grim, but they are not without a vast repertoire of potential solutions.