Deaths from heart disease almost halved in the UK between 2005 and 2015, research has revealed.
The rate of people in the UK dying because of the world’s number one killer dropped from 80 deaths per 100,000 people per year to 46.
Experts say quitting smoking has helped to slash the rate of the illness but soaring rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes threaten to undo that progress.
The study comes as another warning for Britons to slim down after the boss of the NHS last week warned cancers linked to obesity are expected to double by 2035.
Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death around the world and rates have been falling in the majority of countries over the past 10 years as smoking rates drop. Left, the raw rates of people dying of heart disease in countries comparable to the UK and, right, the rates adjusted to look as if all people were the same age
Researchers from Imperial College London compared the UK’s death rates over time and to those of other countries.
They found that, despite the drastic reduction in deaths from heart disease, it remains the most common cause of death in the country and worldwide.
‘Much of the decline in heart disease deaths may be due to a fall in the number of people who smoke,’ said Dr Alexandra Nowbar, a scientist at Imperial.
‘However, obesity, blood pressure and rates of type 2 diabetes are on the rise, and if we don’t keep tabs on these and encourage people to follow healthy lifestyles, we could see the trend of falling heart disease deaths reverse in the future.’
Almost two thirds (64 per cent) of people in the UK are overweight or obese, raising their risk of developing diabetes or heart disease, or having a stroke.
In comparison, fewer than one in six people (16.8 per cent) smoke cigarettes regularly – a drop from more than a quarter (27 per cent) in 2000.
Coronary heart disease is a deadly condition in which the blood vessels become blocked with fatty build-ups and reduce the ability of blood to flow round the body.
This can cause various life-threatening events such as a heart attack, stroke, or a pulmonary embolism if a blood clot travels into the lungs.
HOW CAN BEING FAT PUT YOU AT RISK OF HEART DISEASE?
People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk of coronary heart disease and other potentially deadly conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels.
Fat is stored in many places in the body and the blood vessels – arteries and veins – are no exception. When it is broken down by the digestive system fat’s converted into lipids, which are dissolved into the blood.
When large amounts of these lipids circulate through someone’s blood they begin to up in the vessels and form lumps called plaques.
Over time, as the plaques accumulate in the blood vessels and harden, the tubes through which blood has to pump get narrower.
This pushes blood pressure higher and places more strain on the heart, as well as the walls of the vessels themselves.
This process, called artherosclerosis, can be triggered by type 2 diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Coronary heart disease can ultimately end up putting so much strain on the heart or cutting off its blood supply so much the patient has a heart attack or heart failure, which can be fatal.
People at higher risk of develop coronary heart disease include smokers, those with high blood pressure or cholesterol, overweight people, people who don’t exercise and those with type 2 diabetes.
In the US, the rate of heart disease deaths was 60 per 100,000 per year in 2015 – 30 per cent higher than in the UK.
Other countries with worse rates were Germany (55 per 100,000), Poland (55), Brazil (55), Kazakhstan (100), Russia (220) and Ukraine (325).
Among those with fewer heart disease deaths were Japan (20), France (20), Spain (30), Italy (35) and Norway (35).
The researchers agreed countries where people were generally poorer – such as in Eastern Europe – had higher rates of heart disease deaths.
‘The number of heart disease deaths in Eastern Europe are 20 times higher than in higher income nations,’ Dr Nowbar said.
‘This suggests the economy of a nation is a major contributor to heart disease risk – and that citizens of poorer countries may have less access to healthcare and public health interventions, which means heart disease deaths remain high.’
The second biggest causes of death in the UK are lung cancer and stroke. The latter can be a consequence of heart disease.
Imperial’s paper comes just days after the chief of the NHS warned obesity would become the ‘new smoking’ and lead to tens of thousands of new cancer cases.
Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, last week said he expects cancer cases to double by 2035 because so many people are fat.
In 2015 there were 22,800 obesity-related cancer cases and he expects this to rocket to 40,800 in just 16 years’ time.
‘While cancer survival is at a record high, many people don’t yet realise that obesity causes cancer,’ Mr Stevens warned.
‘On current trends, by 2030 we could see 100 new patients every day being diagnosed with obesity-related cancer.
‘So obesity is the new smoking, and if we continue to pile on the pounds, we’re heading for thousands more avoidable cancer deaths every year.’
Dr Nowbar’s paper was published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.